PUNTA GORDA — Vice Mayor Lynne Matthews gave the city a lot to think about on Buckley’s Pass at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, despite the project not being listed on the agenda.
“It’s broken,” Matthews said. “What started out as a really good project that would benefit a lot of people has turned into a major financial burden for a lot of people.”
During council comments, Matthews said the nautical cut-through project is heading in the wrong direction and would create financial problems for residents in her district.
The other council members withheld comments, presumably for the April 3 City Council meeting where a public hearing is scheduled for the project.
The pass, named for the late Capt. John “Jay” Buckley who helped launch the project decades ago, would create a more direct route for area boaters, connecting the Punta Gorda Isles canal system to Charlotte Harbor.
Matthews represents District 4, which includes a portion of PGI, including the “Bird Section,” named for its bird-themed street names.
Both areas are listed in the assessment district, which encompasses properties south of Aqui Esta Drive, west of Almar Drive and city limits, and largely east of Bal Harbor Boulevard. Those in the district have been deemed to benefit from the project when completed.
Why is it ‘broken’?Matthews feels that the current water access unit method of assessment isn’t fair to property owners.
“I don’t think we should have ever segregated out part of our population for the sake of this project,” Matthews said. “Contrary to what some people in the community may think, people in PGI are not rolling in money.”
In some cases, according to Matthews, there are people who are widowed and live alone and are already financially limited.
“There are people who work their whole life to buy a house in the Isles so they can retire and live on the water,” Matthews said. “(With this), they’re left with a major financial burden. In one case, (there is) a couple that have become too old to even own a boat and go boating that are now being assessed.”
How can it be fixed?At the April 3 City Council meeting, a public hearing is planned to establish the final assessment resolution, according to City Communications Manager Melissa Reichert. This means that the method can still be changed.
Based on the city’s last projected total cost of $3.15 million for the project, property owners in the district would pay $983 up front or $399.53 per year, if paid over three years using the water access unit assessment method, which includes 2,785 water access units.
“We have one person (in the district) that has 85.1 feet of seawall,” Matthews said, “therefore, they have two water access units. That’s $2,000 more in taxes they don’t have (money for). We are really in a position now where we can do something to make it right.”
Matthews suggested some options going into the April 3 meeting, such as changing the assessment to a “per footage” method.
How this method would change the assessment is unknown at the time of this report and would require reevaluation by the city, according to Reichert.
“I would also like to suggest that we look at a ‘no more than a maximum specified amount’ to the taxpayers that are going to be subjected to this assessment,” Matthews said.
Matthews said some people have even told her they are considering putting their houses on the market because “they are so negatively affected by this.”
“There are a lot of people that are very upset,” Matthews said.