Water use drops in Pinellas County, but officials want to raise rates

CLEARWATER — Homes use less water and flush less waste into Pinellas County sewers than past years, thanks to a drought and conservation measures.

But county officials still want to raise water and sewer rates, despite the declining demand and $8 million in cuts already planned for next year's utility budget.

A typical home's bill would rise from $61 to $65 a month beginning Oct. 1. Future hikes could raise that monthly tab to $80 over the next four years.

The increases would affect 97,000 houses in unincorporated Pinellas. Costs for residents in Clearwater, Pinellas Park and beach communities could rise, as well, because they buy their water from the county. St. Petersburg residents will not be affected.

County officials plan a public hearing Sept. 22 before voting on the new rates. A long-term plan for rates is also due then.

So why the increase? The extra revenue would help the county cover losses from delivering reclaimed water for irrigation to 25,000 customers, utility officials told Pinellas County commissioners last week.

"In other words, you could have used less water. You could have no access to reclaimed water. And your reward for that is a higher rate," Commission Chairman Calvin Harris said.

The county receives $2.3 million a year from its reclaimed water customers. The system costs $16.3 million to run.

Utility officials say they need more money for other expenses, too.

Despite less customer demand, Tampa Bay Water is raising the rate it bills the county utility for water. The county also needs cash to pay for upgrades to pipelines and other improvements to its system.

Reclaimed water fees also would rise from $9 to $10 a month on Oct. 1.

Charging more would diminish people's incentive to use the service, said Tom Crandall, director of utilities. In the long run, he said, reclaimed water systems will help reduce demand — and costs — for potable water.

"Do we have any charts showing how much everybody's going to save when we increase the rate?" Commissioner Neil Brickfield asked ironically, suggesting the county was practicing "cost avoidance" instead.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Fast facts

Turning down the faucets

Water and sewer usage

and sales dropped over

the past two decades

for Pinellas County utilities.

Average gallons used

per person a day:

1990: 153 gallons

1999: 110 gallons

2008: 88 gallons

Millions of gallons

of water sold per day:

1995: 62.7 million

1999: 68.3 million

2009: 53.3 million

Millions of sewage

gallons billed a day:

2000: 28.9 million

2003: 29.5 million

2009: 26.5 million

Source: Pinellas County utilities

Water use drops in Pinellas County, but officials want to raise rates 06/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 13, 2009 4:30am]

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