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Aqua Utilities proposal would double water bills for some Pasco customers

PORT RICHEY — Jasmine Lakes residents could see their water bills double under a proposed rate hike pending with the Public Service Commission.

Aqua Utilities, a private company, has filed a rate increase request to raise nearly $3.8 million from 23,500 customers in 17 counties, including Pasco.

Most of the increase is related to recovering $11 million that has been spent or will be spent on statewide capital projects, including the replacement of water mains and treatment systems, the utility says.

The Public Service Commission is holding a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the West Pasco Government Center.

Aqua Utilities serves Jasmine Lakes and Palm Terrace in west Pasco and Zephyr Shores on the east side of the county.

The company wants to establish uniform rates for all its systems, which means some neighborhoods would pay a lot more and others a little less than what they've been paying for water.

A water customer who uses 5,000 gallons a month would owe about $50 under the proposed increase.

For Jasmine Lakes customers, that's a big increase. That same customer now pays about $24 a month.

But Palm Terrace and Zephyr Shores customers who already pay $52 for 5,000 gallons of water would now pay a little less, about $50, according to documents sent to the state commission.

The typical wastewater bills for all three Pasco communities, however, would go from about $71 to $85, a 20 percent jump.

All this would come on top of the hikes that went into effect in April 2009.

Those hikes sent the typical water and sewer bill from $65 to $118 for a Palm Terrace customer and from $91 to $118 for a Zephyr Shores customer. A Jasmine Lakes customer who uses about 5,000 gallons a month saw his total monthly bill, including water and sewer, increase from $50 to $94.

The utility told the Public Service Commission in June that the company needed the new increase not only to help pay for capital improvements but also to cover a 16 percent drop in consumption since the state granted Aqua a rate hike last year.

The two state legislators whose districts include Jasmine Lakes — Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, and Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey — are opposed to the proposed increases.

Legg said the hikes aren't justifiable, and the utility has not been able to show that its capital improvement projects have benefited local customers.

"I can't get from them what they've done in Jasmine Lakes," said Legg.

Fasano called the hikes "wrong and unacceptable."

"There's just no way that individual homeowners can afford an increase like that," he said. "If you go in there today you already see families are struggling."

An Aqua official did not return a phone message Friday. But in documents sent to Fasano's office, president Jack Lihvarcik said the request is aimed at getting a more balanced rate structure.

"Aqua considers water quality and customer satisfaction top priorities, and we've also taken steps to improve 'secondary' (aesthetic) water quality issues — such as the way your water smells and looks — in several communities," he wrote.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

If you go

Have your say

Aqua Utilities customers can attend the Public Service Commission's public hearing on the rate proposals. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday at West Pasco Government Center at 7530 Little Road, New Port Richey.

Aqua Utilities proposal would double water bills for some Pasco customers 10/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 15, 2010 7:58pm]

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