The owners of hundreds of vacant lots on Marco Island may soon face an assessment fee of more than $4,000 to help cover the costs of the island’s sewer and water treatment services.
The City Council voted 5-1 on Monday to hold a public hearing on Aug. 15 regarding the charging of vacant lot owners for sewer and water connections. Councilman Joe Batte dissented, and Councilman Larry Magel was absent.
Each vacant lot that can be improved for development could be assessed a $4,230 fee to pay for connection to the city’s water and sewer treatment plant as well as to cover improvements to the facility. The lots have already been connected to the system but the owners have not been charged.
If the assessment is approved, property owners could choose to pay the money over the course of 10 years.
Most of that money — $3,740 — goes toward increasing the water treatment capacity for the island and sewer connection fees. Connecting to the water main costs about $450.
City finance director Patricia Bliss said she expects both revenue sources would lead to about $1.1 million in revenue during the first year.
There are 2,079 vacant lots on the island the city is considering for the water assessment. Another 765 properties have not paid for sewer services. Some lots must pay for both.
Although councilman Frank Recker voted in favor of taking the issue to a public hearing, he was hesitant.
“I feel like somebody discovered just how much money we could make off this and then they thought of a policy,” Recker said.
But if vacant lot owners aren’t charged the fee, current residents are footing the bill, Recker said.
Bliss said the city could wait until the properties are developed.
“Those lots have already received the benefit,” she said. “Their property is improved (by this). (But) we can wait until they eventually develop.”
She said property owners on a payment plan would be pro-rated for the assessment. So if a landowner paid two years of the $4,230, the remaining balance would be due at the time of the transaction.
Batte said the city shouldn’t charge property owners if they’re not using the water or sewer connection.
“To me it’s a matter of unfairness, quite frankly,” he said. “You’re trying to levy a charge on people who don’t live here to pay for people who do. We’re charging people who aren’t using our system just because we upgraded it.”
Island resident Phil Kostelnik said the city should completely revamp its water and sewage services as well as rates.
“It’s a black hole,” Kostelnik said of the sewer and water plant. “We must stop flushing money down the drain. We are in a recession and our costs to live here continue to increase. More and more of my friends are moving off the island because they can’t afford to live here anymore.”
In other news, City Manager Jim Riviere had planned to introduce former Collier County Sheriff Don Hunter as the new Marco Island Police Chief during Monday’s meeting.
However, the city ended up making the announcement via a press release on Friday after receiving inquiries from the Daily News. No introduction was made Monday.