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Commission Approves Street Light Assessment for 2013

The charge of $50.97 will be implemented starting January 1st, 2013. Sixty-six percent of the parcels in the city are subject to the fee, which equates to a prorated amount of $5.66 per month.

After years of talk and months of debate, the Safety Harbor street light fee became a reality on Monday night after the City Commission voted to approve Ordinance 2012-28.

Despite opposition expressed by residents and doubts raised by a couple of commissioners, the ordinance passed by a 3-2 vote. 

Commissioner Nancy Besore and Commissioner Nina Bandoni registered the two nay votes.

“It’s never easy looking the citizens of Safety Harbor in the eye and saying unfortunately we either have to raise a rate or create a fee,” Mayor Andy Steingold said.

“I don’t think it gives anybody any pleasure to sit up here and make a decision as to what a rate may be, or adding an additional ad valorem rate to cover the cost.”

The issue of collecting an assessment designated solely for streetlights recently came to the forefront as a special fund began to dry up, forcing the commission to look for alternate means of covering costs.

Responding to public input regarding the issue, the commission rejected the idea of raising the ad valorem tax to cover the shortage.

“I didn’t feel that it was prudent at this point to begin raise the ad valorem rate to cover that,” Steingold said. “I felt it was better left in a bill so people can see this is what they’re paying for and this is where it’s going.”

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According to the city, the fee will apply to sixty-six percent of the 7,657 applicable parcels in Safety Harbor. 

Of those parcels, 81 are currently unoccupied and would be subject to the fee when they gained occupancy. Thirty-three percent are not subject to the fee, because they are either already paying for lights through private funding or there are no lights on the street. 

“I am against this ordinance,” Stephen Collins of Swan Lane said.  “I believe this is written as a very hardcore and regressive tax disguised as a user fee.”

“I’m willing to pay my fair share of the street lights when I drive down Main Street, when I drive down Enterprise, Bayshore” said Dale Tindall. “That’s my responsibility as a citizen.”

“When you go down to 12th Avenue North, there’s a mobile home. They’re paying for streetlights. I’m not going to.”

The two commissioners who voted against the assessment reiterated their positions Monday night.

“To me, at this point, we have to move forward,” Commissioner Bandoni said. “Do I like this? No, I don’t. I really believe at this point in time, the dye is cast.”

“We’re stuck. We’re between the proverbial rock and a hard place,” Commissioner Besore added. “This thing stinks, and I can’t vote yes.”

The $50.97 fee will be prorated for 2013, meaning those who are subject to the assessment will pay a total of $5.66 per month for nine months beginning in January.

Safety Harbor residents, what do you think of the streetlight fee? Let us know in the comments below.

Robert Saltzman December 18, 2012 at 11:47 AM
The exemption system is so unfair. Do the people that pay for private street lights not use the the lights that "we" pay for? They chose to move into to these gated or private communities. If they drive down Main St or Phillippe/Bayshore at night they get the benfit of a lighted roadway we pay for. It was said that the Progress Energy pays a franchise fee and utility tax...really?? They pay it with our money they are separate line items on my power bill. We are being double taxed but make sure you save those poor poor people that have private lights from being double taxed. I like Mr Tindale don't mind paying my fair share but the assessment as it is written not fair and will go up sure as the creek will rise when rains.
Jeffrey Rosenfield December 18, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Good points as usual, Bobby. I think the Mayor said it best when he stated "I don't think there's anything fair with taxes and I don't think there's anything fair with fees." If they raised the ad valorem tax to cover this cost, some people would be paying for streetlights twice. It seems like it's one of those tricky situations that didn't have a perfect solution - someone was going to be unhappy no matter how it was handled.
Valerie Nolte December 18, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I am really having a problem understanding the logic behind this tax disquised as a fee. What is the purpose of the street lights? Is it to prevent crime? If so, then the cost should be included as part of the budget designated for policing our streets. Logically, if crime is low because our streets are well-lit, then we all benefit from the need for fewer sheriff patrols. Is it for our physical safety? Then perhaps it should be part of the budget set aside for the fire department or other area responsibile for the safety of our citizens. Again, if we prevent someone from tripping on the sidewalk at night because our streets aren't dark, then we avoid a call that the fire department must make as part of their fire and rescue service. These are city-wide services, not something that is doled out on an individual basis. If we applied the logic of this "fee", I would pay more for fire and rescue service since I live only 2 blocks from the fire station. Obviously I would benefit from their service more than someone else because they could get to my house faster, right? Wrong! And out of curiousity, do residents who have a fire hydrant on their block get charged more because their house is safer than the guy in the next block who doesn't have a fire hydrant? Street lights, fire hydrants, wheelchair accessible sidewalks, stop signs and speed humps - these are amenities that are available to anyone who either lives in or visits our city. A tax by any other name is still a tax.
Jeffrey Rosenfield December 18, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I understand your concerns, Valerie, and I appreciate the comment. I believe it was said last night that this was basically a no-win situation for the city. I don't think anyone wants to see a city without streetlights, but nobody really wants to pay for them, either. That's the definition of a no-win situation!
Gary Moos December 19, 2012 at 03:07 AM
I must say I $5 per month is not that much, but it will hit the poorest among us the most. Property taxes are generally more fair in that those who can afford more also pay more.
Robert Saltzman December 19, 2012 at 10:23 AM
It's not the $5 it the princpal and how it is being assesed. People from gated and private commuinties complained that they have private streetlights they pay for so why should they pay again. Some folks wanted to opt out by shutting off the lights on their block. OK fine well then stay off "my" lighted streets (Main St, Enterprise, Phillippe/Bayshore) that I paid for. That is pretty stupid to think that way but everyone looking to scam the system bugs me. During the months of discussion I saw maybe 3 people complain about having to pay twice and yet the outcry from the many went unheard. The council seemed to cater to these folks. Leaving 66% of the residents holding the bag for people that enjoy the lights of the city "we" pay for. They certainly don't stay in their houses, they use the streets and the lights that shine on them. Yes Mayor Steingold said "no one likes to be taxed" well too bad too sad, the discussion going on in Washington now about paying your fair share has the same pricipals appllied. We remember we vote we are the 66%....
Jeffrey Rosenfield December 19, 2012 at 01:31 PM
"We are the 66%" Leave it to you, Bobby, to come up with a new slogan for Americans! Awesome!
Gary Moos December 19, 2012 at 06:16 PM
@ Robert...I am in agreement. If streetlights were added to the ad valorem tax, then everyone would pay, which is the only fair way to do it, because we all use the public street lights. I love this city, and generally speaking the council does a good job, but this one they got wrong. Some gated communities have playgrounds and green spaces that are only open to home owners and their guests. Should we subtract their portion of parks monies from their taxes? No, that is ridiculous. Their choice to close off part of the incorporated city to the rest of us does not obligate us to lessen their tax load. We sent our son to private school up in NC, did we get a tax break, no. Nor should we have. Those who can afford extras should have them, but not at the expense of the rest of the city. This issue will come up again and any council person who voted in favor of this plan should best be prepared to loose.
Paul Steinbrueck December 20, 2012 at 02:44 PM
A solution to the "paying double" problem would be to give neighborhoods with private street lights the option to shift them to the city to maintain.
Paul Steinbrueck December 20, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Valery, I agree with you. Street lights are for the general good of the citizens of Safety Harbor and ought to be paid for from the general fund. We all benefit from driving down a well-lit McMullen Both Rd, 580, Main Street etc. If we're assessed a street light fee, what's next? A sidewalk fee for those who have a sidewalk in front of their property? A road maintenance fee for those with a city (rather than private or county) street in front of their property?
Paul Steinbrueck December 20, 2012 at 03:40 PM
One other point about this fee that I have not seen discussed anywhere is the burden this places on some of our city's finest charities. Property owners will be assessed based on the square footage of their buildings, so many charities will be hit with very big fees. For example, Harborside Church will be assessed $2500/yr, the Florida Sheriff Youth Ranch $1200. Even the Safety Harbor Neighborhood Center will be assessed a fee. At a time when many charities are facing budget challenges because of the economy, is this how we want to "support" these organizations that do so much for our community?
Don December 23, 2012 at 12:41 PM
This should have been put into the general fund. But now that it's split out as an assessment, the city has to waste time arguing with private communities, which by the way, should not be able to opt-out. The cost to administrate, assess, collect all makes this an inefficient choice. Also, basing the assessment on square footage proves that it is a tax, and not a fee meant to pay for a fixed price service. I guess the guy in a 5000 sq ft house "enjoys" the light more than a person in a 1200 sq ft house and therefore should pay more.
Terry Power December 26, 2012 at 10:42 AM
Having a big house doesn't always equate to having more money....so doing the assessment based on property values is just dumb. A guy with his car driving down Main Street who lives in a big house gets exactly the same benefit as the guy with his car who lives in a small house. Why shouldn't they pay the same? A fee is the better way to go. It's also not an enormous amount of money. I'm sure that everyone can find $6 a month to have a well lit, safer community. Don't sweat the small things, folks. Life's too short.
robert stevens February 10, 2013 at 01:08 PM
How much is it going to cost the city to do this ridiculous billing of $5 a month, staff, mail cost, admin oversight, collections, etc. I will pay yearly in advance I guess and ignore the monthly tree killing "junk mail". One would wish our city governors would have more smarts than this dumb structure. Add it to our tax bills if we have to pay it! Common sense please arise!

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