SEBRING — Last month, County Attorney Joy Carmichael told the Board of County Commission she had begun research on a countywide drainage assessment.
On Tuesday, she said the county could set one up, taxing each resident equally for drainage improvements throughout the county. However, after discussion, commissioners said it might be better to have localized benefit districts to handle drainage costs in those areas, as well as reach out to the local water management districts to see what plans they have for controlling drainage and flooding.
“Since you’ve got nothing left to do,” Commission Chair James “Jim” Brooks joked to Carmichael, County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. and Road and Bridge Director Kyle Green. “Let’s set up a workshop on this and see what direction we want to go.”
That workshop has yet to be set for a date or place.
In her report, Carmichael said the county could set up a municipal service taxing unit (MSTU), which assesses each landholder at the same rate, regardless of the direct benefit they get from the assessment.
The county could, instead, set up a municipal services benefit unit (MSBU), just like the fire assessment, taxing landholders based on the extent of help they would receive from drainage improvements.
She also said the county could set up MSBUs in specific areas that have drainage problems, to keep the funding where it’s needed.
A consultant she approached about the problem recommended the county do a hydrology study of the whole county to see where the problems exist and what the county would have to do to fix them.
That, based on what the consultant told her, could cost $100,000-$200,000. Carmichael said the county would consider an MSTU to pay for that part of it.
Of course, both the South Florida and Southwest Florida Water Management Districts could help. Commissioner Greg Harris suggested getting them involved, since they would want to invest in the county’s overall flood control plan.
“We know pretty well where our problems are,” Brooks said.
The water management districts are already studying those areas, especially since the flooding in 2017 during and after Hurricane Irma.
“It all pretty much goes hand in hand,” Howerton said of funding drainage improvements and getting direction from water management districts on what improvements to make.
He suggested looking at creating MSBUs based on the watershed basins, keeping those funds in each basin, not unlike the way water management districts fund hydrology studies and water control or supply projects within their boundaries.
Howerton cautioned that for joint-planning agreements, the water district pays 75%, but the county has to pay 25%. Having an assessment unit or units, he said, would help pay that.
Brooks said the county spent months, if not years just creating a road paving district for one street and a fire assessment for the whole county.
“This is not something that will happen overnight,” Brooks said.
County Administrator Randy Vosburg said the county may want to start the process so that a funding mechanism is in place once the water district and county devise plans to deal with flooding, to deal with it quickly.
Brooks said that’s a “chicken and the egg” problem with having to advertise for hearings. People want to know how much the county intends to raise, how much each of them will pay and what the county plans to do with the money.
Commissioner Don Elwell said he’s not a big fan of MSTUs or MSBUs, but would rather have the water districts participate.
In his neighborhood, the Spring Lake Improvement District, supervisors already assess residents to provide drainage control, and succeeded in avoiding the flooding other areas had. They won’t want to be taxed again to pay for benefits they don’t need, he said.
If anything, he said, the county should tax only pockets — neighborhoods and developments that need help directly.