Fort Myers water, sewer rates to rise

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Living within the boundaries of the city of Fort Myers will cost its residents a little more.

City leaders approved the $85.3 million Fort Myers general fund budget on Thursday. Water and sewage rates also will increase 4 percent, and homeowners may face increases on taxes because the tax rate will remain at 8.7760.

Plus, the city had tap into $5.3 million of its general fund reserves to balance the budget, leaving the fund at $7.2 million — below its own budget policy of 10 percent. Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said though reserves are not where they should be, they are meant for drawing on when needed.

“We’d like to have more in case of a catastrophic event,” added Henderson. “But the city is stable. We always want more reserves.”

The city has been tapping its general fund reserves since the economy started to tank after the housing bubble burst in 2006. Its reserves were cut nearly in half in a year — from $23.2 million in 2006 to $12.3 million in 2007 to the predicted $7.2 million in 2014.

Meanwhile, with the city not rolling back the tax rate, homeowners may pay more in taxes, if their property value increased. The city is keeping its tax rate at 8.7760 mills. That means a home owner will pay about $8.77 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay an estimated $1,755.

The sewer and water rates will increase by 4 percent to help cover future utility capital projects. Some rate increases are expected in future years, but they won’t be as drastic; had the city not increased the 4 percent this coming year, it would’ve had to increase rates by 9 percent during fiscal year 2014-15, Councilman Thomas Leonardo explained at the meeting.

City Manager William Mitchell said that by increasing the rates incrementally, future projects to produce water will have funding, as will a plant scheduled for 2021. The plant will allow the city to increase its reuse capabilities, which the Department of Environmental Protection requires.

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