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Tampa Bay Water board members struggle with rate increase

CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay Water board members made it clear Monday that they're not happy about a proposed hike in utility rates that is designed to cover declining demand for water.

The board members, who are slated to vote on the rate increase in June, spent most of a budget workshop looking for other cuts they could make in hopes of lessening the sting of a rate hike.

St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse called for ditching a lot of consultant contracts and instead hiring employees to carry out those same duties at a lower cost.

For instance, he said, Tampa Bay Water is spending $200,000 a year on a Tallahassee lobbyist "but the Legislature only meets two months a year."

He was particularly focused on reviewing all the engineering consultants the utility has hired to run its various water-supply projects. "We can't continue to pay three to four times as much to do it on the outside as it does on the inside," Nurse said.

Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda told his colleagues that their real problem is that they cannot control the pace of population growth, and thus water use, in a state as changeable as Florida.

Tampa Bay Water's staff wants to boost rates by $1.52 a month for an average household that uses 8,000 gallons of water. The 8 percent rate increase proposal comes amid declining water usage in the region.

The wholesale utility serving Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties has seen demand for its product drop 13 million gallons a day over the past year, due to lawn-sprinkling restrictions, heavy rainfall and the tanking Florida economy.

The new budget does cut three staff positions, reducing the size of the utility's payroll to 125 people, and cuts expenditures by $10.8 million, or 6 percent, from last year. Also, to save money, the utility expects to operate its desal plant — which has a capacity of 25 million gallons a day — at an average of just 8 million gallons a day

Tampa Bay Water's current rate is $2.398 per 1,000 gallons, and the utility is proposing to raise the rate to $2.5892 per 1,000 gallons starting July 1. That charge on the water it sells to the local utilities is then partially passed along to their residential and business customers. Tampa Bay Water's total budget is $163 million, a decrease from the current budget of $176 million.

Craig Pittman can be reached at (727) 893-8530 or craig@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Water board members struggle with rate increase 04/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 19, 2010 9:13pm]
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