North Cape Coral’s Utilities Extension Project puts financial strain on residents

Published: Updated:

Many homeowners could get slammed with thousands of dollars in costs. Cape Coral wants to expand utility services, but some worry they can’t afford it.

It has some people wondering if they’ll be forced to move.

Septic tanks and groundwater wells are still the most common ways to get and dispose of water in north Cape Coral. Homeowners have had no choice but to rely on well water since the city’s development, and now they have no choice but to convert to city water and pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege.

“We didn’t realize it was going to be this high. It was literally, like, less than five years ago, where everyone was like, it was around $20,000, sometimes under, and ours is for $36,000,” said Anthony Mischitelli, of Cape Coral.

Mischitelli is one of many north Cape neighbors suffering from sticker shock. They all just received their assessments from Cape Coral’s Utilities Extension Project (UEP).

“People retired here who are living paycheck to paycheck. It’s just not good for them. Your average working family is going to get forced out of here,” Mischitelli said.

Cape Coral gave the green light to its UEP years ago and made it mandatory because the city says all of the wells are putting too much stress on the aquifer, and the septic tanks leak, sending discharge into the canals.

Property owners do have some choices when it comes to payment:

  1. Pay in full by September 30 or July 31 of next year.
  2. For those who can’t do that, there is a financing option with payments spread out over 30 years.

Homeowner Kevin Burkett doesn’t like any of it. “Almost the entire bill is being left to the residents to pay.”

He is calling on city leaders to do something about the cost. “I believe that the city council and this mayor, along with any representatives that we have at our disposal, really need to step it up and try to find some federal funding to help with this project.”

Mischitelli moved to north Cape Coral in 2019. He knew at the time that he would have to eventually have to convert from well water to city water, but he did not know it would cost him well over $30,000.

“It impacts everyone, you know, we’ve got three people living here all in the medical field. So we’re going to do our best to get through it. But it just really is more of a financial burden to the whole community,” said Mischitelli.

Construction will be broken into six separate areas. Despite the hefty price tag, the city says the project calls for growth to pay for growth. Meaning property owners like Mischitelli need to pay for the upgrade because they are the ones who benefit.

“I actually calculated mine already. So it’s $36,000 if I can pay it in seven months, which seems attainable for everyone. If I paid over 30 years, it’s $120,000 for me,” Mischitelli said.

Mischitelli said his plan is to pay for the project upfront. He’s in a position where he can take on extra shifts at work to earn the money, but he knows most of his neighbors will have no choice but to finance the cost or get a second job.

“Obviously, this is going to be a burden, unlike anything that anybody has ever seen here,” said Burkett.

Burkett knows about the hardship the program from the city will offer neighbors who don’t know where the money will come from.

Cape Coral will allow homeowners to defer payments for a fee, which could range between 10% to 100% depending on the household’s annual income.

Burkett has a better idea, leave Cape Coral. He just hopes his house will sell. “We are the bullseye of the real estate target. And real estate agents and buyers, potential buyers alike. If they know that this assessment is coming up, they’re going to avoid buying in this area.”

If you have additional questions about the Cape Coral UEP project, the city is holding a meeting on Wednesday on the second floor of City Hall with city leaders and contractors involved with the project.

On Wednesday, the contractors bringing the utilities expansion project to your neighborhood met people from the community and answered questions.

The most common concern WINK News heard can be summed up by Cape Coral resident Nancy Wheaton.

“I wanted to hear about the cost factor,” Wheaton said.

Many people want to know the price tag.

“No explanation for the increase in cost from, because… on the other side of where we’re at off of Pine Island Road, where Dairy Queen and Mel’s Diner is, that area was done, what, two or three years ago, found years ago maybe. And it was, what, $8,000 less,” Kim Lucas from the North 1 West area in Cape Coral, said.

Lucas said she and her husband are still paying to fix their home after Hurricane Ian. And they are well aware their neighbors are in the same boat which makes the price tag of the project harder to swallow.

“Unfortunately, with inflation, a possible recession, supply shortages… you know, it’s just unfortunate that the prices have risen as much as they have. But you know, we’ll continue to look at ways we can reduce that cost. We’ll continue to look at grants that might be available as we do for all these projects,” Cape Coral City Council member Tom Hayden said.

District three council member, Tom Hayden, said only 4% of people in Cape Coral can afford to pre-pay their portion of the project.

“You know, these assessments really won’t show up on their tax rolls until 2024 I believe. You know, I think there’s time to plan. There’s still time to recover from the storm. So, I think we had to keep moving forward, and we can. So, that was important,” Hayden said.

There are options to spread out the payments over 20, 25, or 30 years, but that comes with interest. And there’s also a hardship program to delay all or a portion of your special assessment.

“The wealthy people can cover. The middle-class can kind of cover. The people on fixed-income, they can’t handle some of these different rules,” Cape Coral resident Phil Wheaton said.

“We know it’s got to be done, it’s just they just picked the wrong time to start kicking this back up again,” Lucas said.

People WINK News spoke with on Wednesday said they’re scrambling to figure out how to pay for it. Some said they’re on a fixed income and can’t afford it. One woman told WINK News she’s going to have to delay her retirement and borrow against her retirement plan.

For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about Cape Coral’s UEP, click here.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.