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Anger grows over utility rate increase vs. re-instated impact fees

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Sarasota city commission voted to raise utility rates 12% over the next two years, and Dan Lobeck is furious.

Lobeck says the city had a chance to re-instate utility impact fees for developers and they blinked.

"Three years ago at the bottom of the recession, the developers were excused from paying utility impact fees....now they're seeking to plug that hole with this huge rate hike on every resident and every business in the City of Sarasota," Lobeck said.

Lobeck also founded a local group called "Control Growth Now."

But the city utilities director says 'not so fast.' Mitt Tidwell says impact fees would only have brought in about half a million dollars last year--and this rate increase will provide an additional $2.7 million. "An impact fee is a one time payment whereas when they finish one of those nice tall buildings downtown and start sending us a check every month for the water they use, over time that's much more important as a revenue stream," Tidwell said.

But Lobeck disagrees.  "The developers aren't going to be paying the money, the ultimate (eventual) residents and businesses of the developments will," Lobeck said.

During the City Commission meeting Monday, only Mayor Willie Shaw voted against raising utility rates. Vice Mayor Susan Chapman has also spoken against raising the rates. It's not lost on Lobeck that this fall, when two Commissioners resign to run for county commission, and the remaining three commissioners are left to pick their replacements, and this issue could be re-opened.

"In November there are going to be two new commissioners and a lot of us are hopeful this huge rate hike will be brought down and developers again will have to pay utility impact fees," Lobeck said.