Stormwater Status No Longer Quo

Across too many years, through too many administrations, for all kinds of reasons, stormwater has been the stepchild issue of Tampa. Schools, police, fire, parks, playgrounds, garages, a stadium and downtown development dominated budgets. Priorities and politics.

That toad-strangler on New Year’s Eve was the most recent reminder that no-wake zones aren’t limited to the Hillsborough River and that too many canals have morphed into run-off ditches. Would that kayaks at certain South Tampa intersections were always exercises in hyperbole.

Finally, however, stormwater has standing.

Recently City Council served notice to the county tax collector of plans to impose a stormwater fee this year. This election year. The proposal, at the behest of lame duck Mayor Dick Greco, will come before the Council next month. A “yes” vote would result in single-family homeowners being charged $12 a year. Multi-family residences would ante up $6 a year per unit. Businesses would be billed based on the size of their buildings.

It’s not a perfect solution. That would have had to occur years ago — as Tampa’s pipes grew ancient and filters became all the rage. But it is reasonable and long overdue. The tax would raise about $4 million a year toward city drainage projects. Tampa’s current — and manifestly inadequate — stormwater budget is $9.4 million per year. The additional funding would also make the city eligible for numerous federal grants. It could help leverage more loan dollars as well.

The most formidable obstacle standing in the way of doing what should have been done a generation ago is potential political posturing and parochialism. This is not the time to re-fight the Community Investment Tax allocations or question the timing of the mayor’s forget-me-not fee on the way out of office. Nor is it proper to foster scenarios that pit neighborhoods against each other because not all residential areas are equally vulnerable to stormwater surges.

For example, South Tampa, where elevation is low and density high, will require a sizable share of the stormwater funding. On balance, however, flooding is a citywide issue. Tampa is an increasingly crowded, waterfront city that is finally addressing this chronic growing pain that has drained patience and quality of life for too long.

City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda, a mayoral candidate who will vote for the fee, put it best. “Say there’s no flooding problem where I live (in West Tampa), but I also drive on Kennedy Boulevard,” noted Miranda. “You have an enormous problem there.”

And that’s everybody’s enormous problem, including the next mayor’s.

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