File this under the “never let a serious crisis go to waste” category.
With a tropical storm bearing down on Tampa later this week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn used the occasion of a press conference — called ostensibly to warn residents about how to handle the coming storm — to lobby City Council members to support a sweeping stormwater assessment fee increase they’re scheduled to vote on Thursday night.
“We are never going to cure the stormwater problem,” the mayor told reporters at City Hall Tuesday morning. “But I can tell you that a $250 million investment in additional capacity for our pipes, in additional pump stations, in additional clearing of retention ponds, and drainage ditches and swales will go a very, very long way to alleviate this problem.”
The problem is what happens in Tampa whenever there’s a major — or not even that major — storm. Streets become flooded relatively quickly, making them impossible to drive on.
The City Council will vote this Thursday on a stormwater assessment and a proposed improvement assessment. The new fee would begin at approximately $45 per year, “or less than a Cuban sandwich” Buckhorn called it earlier this year, before rising to nearly $90 a year.
That’s less expensive that the proposal rejected by the council on a 4-3 vote last November. That’s in part because Buckhorn is proposing the city take $20 million from Community Investment Tax revenues to close the gap, the voter-approved sales tax that runs through 2026 and helped fund Raymond James Stadium, schools, and road projects.
The project is expensive for city taxpayers, but Buckhorn says it would be the first major step the city has taken in decades to attempt to deal with its stormwater and subsequent flooding issues.
“I am optimistic that City Council will vote to approve this,” he said, adding that he had made some concessions to the proposal that was rejected last year, including a plan for elderly disabled homeowners or disabled veterans. “None of us like to raise fees,” Buckhorn said. “But the reality is if we don’t do it, every time we have one of these rain events, we will continue to have these problems. So the choice will be for the City Council: Do we kick the can down the road for future generations and future administrations? Or do we step up and recognize that we have a problem, recognize that it’s not inexpensive, and fix the problem?”
Buckhorn went on to say, “The timing couldn’t be better. Or worse,” regarding the vote scheduled for this Thursday night at City Hall, beginning at 6 p.m.