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.