NEW PORT RICHEY — State regulators ruled Thursday that Summertree residents will incur a double-digit rate increase for water, but they'll pay less than what their provider, Utilities Inc. of Florida, had requested.
"At least it's something," said Richard Neilson, a resident of the 1,200-home development south of State Road 52. "The big thing was that they ordered the utility to meet with representatives from the community to come up with a permanent solution."
For years, Summertree complained about the yellowish color and bad taste of their water. Some refuse to drink it. But they were floored in May when on top of those issues, Utilities Inc. of Florida said it wanted a 36-percent hike in water service.
Last week, two bus loads of Summertree residents traveled to the Public Service Commission in Tallahassee to complain loudly against the rate request.
After a nearly 10-hour meeting, the regulator awarded Utilities Inc. a 20-percent increase, noting the company had spent $2 million in recent years to make the water safer despite the taste, color and other issues that still remain.
"I was very pleased with the professionalism of the crowd and those who spoke, but I'm very disappointed with the outcome so far," said state Sen. Wilton Simpson, who testified on residents' behalf, along with state Rep. Richard Corcoran, Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano and Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano. "In my opinion, it was ridiculous that they should get any increase."
The commission's ruling isn't final. A written decision is due in about week, after which residents can appeal, said Rachel Rogers, an aide to Simpson.
Residents seemed pleased the commission took notice of their plight. It ordered the company to meet regularly with residents and look for a permanent solution to the taste and color issues.
One option suggested: connect to the county's water service at a cost of $1.5 million to $2 million. Earlier, the company said it would cost $10 million to hook up to the system, but it corrected that estimate last week.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.