The City of Port St. Joe will begin enforcing a state statute requiring Gulf County residents who have the opportunity to hook up to city sewer systems to do so, though city commissioners voted to extend the time frame in which the change must occur.
Florida statute 381.00655 states that all residents with the ability to hook onto a publicly owned or investor owned sewer system must do so within 365 days of notification from the owner or operator of said sewer system, in this case the city.
At their August 16 meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted to begin enforcing the measure in three years’ time, instead of the one year outlined in the state’s law.
“Statute allows us to make it mandatory after 365 days of the sewer line being installed in front of their house,” said Commissioner David Ashbrook. “ I say we give everybody in Gulf County five years to make that hook up themselves. There’s grant opportunities to get it done for little to nothing, and after that, they’ve even built in here that they can pay in installments for up to two years from notification.”
The mayor, Rex Buzzett, negotiated that the timeline be brought down to three years.
“I’m a little hesitant on doing a five year,” he said. “Would you be ok with three? I mean, that’s, and still they can pay over time, and what we’re trying to do with this is stimulate folks. We’ve got grants out there with the money, and we’ve had what? A half dozen people sign up for them?”
Port St. Joe’s septic to sewer program is off to a slower start than some city officials would like.
The City received grant funding from the state to offer 175 sewer connections to interested new customers on a first come first serve basis throughout our collection system.
Under the program, the cost of hooking into the city’s sewer system is significantly lowered. The impact fees, bore fees and the simplex grinder station will be offered at no cost to the homeowner, as long as they meet the requirements for qualification.
There’s a $100 associated deposit and a $400 tap fee, but otherwise, the costs for hooking up to the city’s sewer system are covered.
The program applies to all city-operated sewer lines, as would the new requirements — including sewer systems on the Cape and the line the city is working to secure ownership of in Beacon Hill.
But the city’s financial advisor, Mike LaCoeur, confirmed that although the program has been in place for nearly a year, very few residents have taken advantage of the opportunity.
“You’re right. It’s only half a dozen and maybe 10 that are waiting until after the rental season, so it’s slow,” he said.
Ashbrook went on to state that he believed further grant funding opportunities would be available to help residents cover the cost of tapping into the sewer system before the three year deadline expires.
Commissioner Scott Hoffman said that educating the public of these opportunities would require stepped-up efforts from the city’s government.
“The time frame is not going to persuade that many people in my mind. We just have to do our due diligence and education the people about the opportunity for grant funding to help assist with it, and that’s the key is our role to let people know that one, it’s law, and two we’re going to give everyone ample time to get it done and then assist them with the expense of doing it,” he said.
Questions then turned to the enforcement mechanism of the new requirements.
The city would be required to issue written notification to all affected households at least 365 days prior to any enforcement action under the state statute.
Ashbrook raised concerns that city code enforcement officers could quickly get overwhelmed should a large number of people not hook on after this notification period.
“And who is the enforcement partner on all this? Ist this the health department?” He asked. “Or is this something that’s going to overwhelm code enforcement in exactly three years?”
Florida Statute 381.0065 does outline some ability to issue fines for violations of the statute.
Commissioners agreed to discuss the enforcement mechanism further in coming meetings, with the idea that they will have the issue resolved before the three year mark.