Higher stormwater fees irk residents

Some homeowners objected to how the fees are calculated, prompting the city to set up an appeals process to request changes

Sept. 15, 2023

By Beth Kassab

Winter Park City Commissioners unanimously approved higher stormwater fees for many residents and a new way of collecting the fees for all residents, a change expected to generate an additional $600,000 a year in revenue for projects to help treat runoff from storms and prevent flooding.

The decision came after a handful of residents spoke out against the changes in response to letters that went out late last month that explained the new cost per property and noted that residents will now be charged for stormwater management on their annual property tax bill rather than monthly water utility bills.

“I don’t think this is even remotely fair,” said one resident who described himself as a commercial property owner and said the cost is a “rainwater tax” that will amount to a “stress test” passed on to his tenants.

The fees are calculated by the amount of impervious surface on each lot — or the amount of concrete, asphalt and other materials that impede rain from soaking back into the ground.

A resident who lives in a 6,300-square-foot house said the letter she received noted her annual fee will rise by $766 or about $63 a month. She questioned why the city counts her gravel driveway as impervious and why the ratio of grass and vegetation on her lot wasn’t factored in.

A representative of The Gallery condominium complex wanted to know why unit owners are being charged different amounts simply because they live on different parcels within the same development.

“Your process is flawed,” she said.

Wes Hamil, director of the city Finance Department, said residents who feel their fees were miscalculated can file an appeal here on the city’s Web site.

The Voice first reported the changes to the fees in June. Not everyone is seeing an increase:

The more than 540 owners of homes larger than 8,900 square feet will see the largest jump in price — an estimated $24.61 per month or nearly $300 a year more than under the old fee structure, according to a city analysis. Houses less than 2,899-square-feet are likely to see a decrease in stormwater fees, with the smallest homes seeing the largest savings. The price drop is estimated to range from about $9 a year to about $60 a year.

Mayor Phil Anderson said the city fell behind in keeping up with inflation and other rising costs over the past decade to treat and control storm run-off. While the year-over-year increase appears high, he said, it works out to a 2.6% annual compounded growth rate since 2013.

“The city got behind in recovering expenses for our stormwater maintenance program,” Anderson said, noting that even with the increases the city will still need to take dollars from other sources for major flood prevention projects.

Studies are underway now to determine how to prevent future flooding like what Winter Park experienced last year after Hurricane Ian. The increase in fees are not expected to cover the cost of those fixes.

“The stormwater utility in my opinion has always been underfunded,” said Commissioner Todd Weaver. “Ian gave us some valuable lessons and we really need to address those … this increase is very necessary.”

Questions or comments? Email the editor at WinterParkVoiceEditor@gmail.com

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    By: Beth Kassab

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