Collier to consider new tax for emergency repairs to private rural roads
With some unpaved, private streets in Collier County’s rural areas hampering emergency vehicles, commissioners Tuesday set steps in motion to consider taxing rural residents to pay for repairs.
Commissioners unanimously voted to hold a public hearing on a proposed municipal services taxing unit to fund repairs of private rural roads to make them passable for first responders.
The proposed taxing unit would authorize a levy not to exceed one mil of property taxes per year — or $1 per $1,000 of taxable valuable.
With the estimated tax value of properties along or adjacent to those private roads at more than $269 million, county staff say revenue from a one mil tax could reach up to $269,500 per year.
The average cost per mile for limerock road repairs is $9,000, according to the county. There are about 105 miles of unpaved, private roads in Collier, but not all would need to be repaired.
Commissioner Bill McDaniel, who brought the item forward and whose district encompasses large swaths of rural lands, said he has been working on the issue for more than a year.
“We have had a longtime health safety issue in Collier County,” he said.
McDaniel said Platt Road, which is deteriorating off Immokalee Road northeast of Naples, prevented ambulances from reaching a friend who suffered from heart disease.
“The ambulance could not get to him,” he said. “The county then was forced to spend $9,000 on Platt Road to fix a long overdue washout that had transpired.”
Last year’s brush fires showed the difficulty emergency vehicles might have reaching remote areas, said County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow.
“If they can’t go down a private road because it’s just unpassable, it not only jeopardizes the people who live on the private road and allowed that road to get into that condition,” he said. “It jeopardizes the community as a whole.”
Establishing the taxing unit also would cut costs by dealing with the issue proactively, McDaniel argued.
Instead of paying on average $9,000 per mile for repairs on an “after-the-fact basis,” the tax would pool funds for proactive maintenance costing, on average, $2,000 per mile, he said.
“Everybody pays a little bit in order to take care of all of the roads, as opposed to the extraordinary after-the-fact emergency expenses that the county’s having to go on and then back-charge the people after the fact,” McDaniel said. “That’s the way it’s being done right now.”
The board would set the millage rate each year in coordination with county staff and with input and advice from first responders, he said.
Although the ordinance would cap the rate at one mil, McDaniel said the rate would not need to be that high.
“There are a lot of this 105 miles of roads that are passable right now,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting. “So we certainly don’t need to go overboard on this.”
Once the funding brought in through the taxing unit reaches a level that meets the repair needs, Klatzkow said, commissioners could set the millage rate at zero until the funding pool drops again.
With no funding source currently available for repairing private roads, McDaniel argues the proposed taxing unit would help strike a balance between keeping rural areas accessible to first responders and not using public money for private purposes, which is prohibited by law.
By establishing the taxing unit, the cost of the repairs would be borne solely by the residents along the deteriorating roads.
Local fire districts or the Collier Sheriff’s Office would notify the county when a road is, or soon would be, impassable.
The proposed taxing unit would include a mechanism for property owners along unpaved roads that are in good condition and continually maintained to opt out of the tax.
To do so, those property owners would have to show that the road is passable and that a maintenance plan for it is in place. The opt-out provision would apply to roads not likely to require maintenance within five years.
If the private road becomes impassable, the homes along it would be included in the tax district again at the start of the next fiscal year.
Before commissioners moved the proposed taxing unit along to a future hearing, some voiced concerns about the proposal.
“I just think that’s making a lot of people pay for something that they don’t want,” Commissioner Donna Fiala said.
Commissioner Andy Solis argued the county has a mechanism in place to address potential repairs in an emergency and said the county usually asks the community to vote on the creation of a taxing unit.
“I have really big concerns that this is, we’re going to be increasing millage rates,” he said. “We’ll be collecting money from owners of private roads to essentially proactively maintain these private roads.”