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New stormwater fees could equate to 12 percent tax hike


The Vero Beach City Council was set to move forward this week with the next step of imposing a stormwater utility tax on residents, businesses and nonprofits – without the support of the mayor.

Since the November election, there’s been a solid, three-vote majority supporting the city staff’s push for a dedicated fund billed separately on the tax rolls to pay for stormwater projects intended to clean up the lagoon instead of lumping those expenses into the general property tax fund.

Mayor Robbie Brackett has been against this new form of revenue in a pandemic economy.

“The way I see it, this would mean an 11 or 12 percent tax increase at a time when businesses are still struggling and we can’t do that,” Brackett said on Monday, a day ahead of the council vote putting the public on notice that the city intends to assess a new tax.

The vote on the amount of the tax will be separate, after a new city council member comes on board to fill a vacant seat.

The new stormwater tax, which would be appear on this fall’s tax bills, would be levied on houses, condos and businesses, as well as churches, nonprofits and government buildings that are exempt from ad valorem property taxes based upon value.

Councilman Rey Neville has said repeatedly that he thinks a stormwater fee is a “much more equitable way” to pay for the installation of swales and culverts and for street sweeping than via property taxes.

But Brackett said he would prefer the city council be accountable for all the expenditures in the millage rate because that is much more transparent, and it forces the council to weigh all the city’s priorities along with stormwater.

Vero Beach is not under the gun to meet state requirements for reducing stormwater runoff of unwanted nutrients into the lagoon, as it has already met the year 2025 requirements and has a good start toward meeting the year 2030 requirements.

Vero has done this by funding stormwater projects through property taxes, so it appears that system is not utterly broken. There is no evidence of an imminent Vero Beach stormwater crisis to justify a new, dedicated tax of $1 million or more per year.

Brackett has challenged the staff to come up with innovative ways to pay for stormwater improvements and at least one major project is in the works to divert stormwater from the main relief canal and sell it to John’s Island as irrigation water – turning a problem into a commodity.

That is the kind of approach needed going forward, especially during a pandemic, Brackett said.

The new stormwater utility fees would be based upon the impervious area of property – that covered by buildings, patios and paved driveways and parking lots. The idea is that every square foot that’s not grass or gravel or another porous surface causes rainwater to run off somewhere else, into swales and potentially into the Indian River Lagoon.

Consultants will establish the size of an Equivalent Residential Unit or ERU based upon the average impervious area of the city’s single-family homes as determined by a massive surveying and mapping project now underway.

When the city first talked about imposing a stormwater tax, it was estimated that the owner of a typical residence in the city would pay $60 to $100 per year.

A business owner or institution that had 10 times as much impervious area on property as an average home would pay 10 times that amount.