The Palm Coast City Council voted 3-2 at a May 16 meeting to increase the city’s stormwater fees over the next five years while also restricting increases after that five-year period.
Beginning Oct. 1, Palm Coast residents will pay $28.34 per month, up from the current rate of $22.27. Over the next five years, the bill will increase to $39.10, a 75% increase.
But restrictions linked to the rate hike would prevent future City Council members from implementing additional large rate hikes for at least five years after October 2028.
Any additional increase in stormwater fees would be capped at that year’s Consumer Price Index rate. The rates will also be reviewed annually, Stormwater and Engineering Director Carl Cote said.
Vice Mayor Ed Danko and Council member Cathy Heighter both voted against the increase, saying the amount was too drastic.
What's before you today is the bare minimum to maintain the system to not have to have those big [failures.] — Carl Cote, Stormwater and Engineering Director
Cote said the rate hike addresses the increased cost of materials and the needs of the stormwater system.
“Our failures are happening faster than we’re either lining the pipes or replacing those pipes,” Cote said. “What’s before you today is the bare minimum to maintain the system to not have to have those big [failures.]”
Stormwater rate hikes have been discussed at City Council meetings since February, when Cote first presented the need for additional funding to the council. In his original presentation, the rate proposals were spread across five tiers and topped at a $45.16 monthly bill for residents after the five-year period.
Since then, the stormwater department has trimmed off “wish list” items and removed the cost of right-of-way mowing.
At the May 2 meeting, Cote said the Stormwater Department will be functioning on the bare minimum for operational reserves and use any excess money to fund projects.
“We’ve gone back several times and took those hard looks and cut back to the basic minimum,” Cote said.
Despite the restrictions in place and Cote’s statements about needing the funding, Danko said the department needs to learn to “tighten the belt” instead of asking for the additional funding.
“To me, it’s a tax,” Danko said. “...My suggestion is do what the rest of us are doing. Learn how to tighten your belts; learn how not to waste money.”
Palm Coast resident Gene Dowd said during the meeting’s public comment period that while he didn’t envy the council’s position, in this case, they needed to make the tough decision.
“I don’t care what the rate is. I want safe water, I want safe roads and I want stormwater,” he said. “That’s what I pay my taxes for.”
Council member Theresa Carli Pontieri proposed the restrictions on future increases.
“I just want there to be some [assurance] to our residents that they’re not going to look at another increase like this come 2028,” Pontieri said.
Klufas cautioned his fellow members about handicapping future City Councils from being able to plan for more expensive projects, especially when pipes are at their end of life.
I don't care what the rate is. I want safe water, I want safe roads and I want stormwater. That's what I pay my taxes for. — Gene Dowd, Palm Coast resident
This is the second doubling since 2018, he said, and no one knows what the future might require.
“If you had told me that the whole world was going to shut down [in 2020] ... I wouldn’t have bought that at all,” Klufas said. “But here we are.