Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco utility takeover will raise water/sewer bills in Gulf Harbors

NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County takeover of the Lindrick utility system won’t translate to customer savings on water and sewer bills.

That is the bottom line of a new study commissioned by Pasco County on the feasibility of acquiring the Lindrick system from the Florida Governmental Utility Authority.

The study by Stantec found the utility system, built in the 1960s to serve the Gulf Harbors and adjoining areas in coastal west Pasco, is in need of more than $12 million worth of repairs, including more than $2 million that should be done immediately.

The long-term project list included demolishing or rehabbing lift stations, relining sewer pipes, fixing 300 manholes and even potentially abandoning water wells in favor of buying water from another source.

The utility has 3,100 water customers and 2,600 sewer customers whose wastewater is treated by the city of New Port Richey. The FGUA purchased the utility in 2010 for $16.8 million. That price tag, plus millions of dollars worth of capital improvements, has put the utility $25 million in debt.

"The biggest problem with the Lindrick system is debt,’’ said Flip Mellinger, assistant county administrator for public infrastructure. "It doesn’t matter who owns it, the debt has to be paid.’’

Pasco joined the FGUA cooperative in 2008 as a precursor to acquiring troubled private utilities like Aloha Utilities in Trinity/Holiday, Lindrick Service Corp. in Gulf Harbors and Mad Hatter Utilities in central Pasco.

For years, Lindrick’s customers tolerated low pressure and frequent contamination concerns, but post-purchase, the complaints turned to pricing. A monthly water and sewer bill for 4,000 gallons of water in the Lindrick franchise area costs $101.20. Nearby residents served by Pasco County pay $55.60.

Stantec presented multiple purchase options to commissioners, but county staff recommended including additional charges on customers for the acquisition debt and to finance capital improvements. Combined, the customers would pay $109.19 monthly, an $8 increase over their current bills, to retire the debt over the next 30 years.

"Thirty years, there’s a good chance some of these customers will never see a benefit here,’’ said Commissioner Mike Moore. "... I’m trying to figure where the benefit lies?’’

It was a sentiment shared by some Gulf Harbors residents who watched the commission workshop Tuesday.

"I think we’ve been had,’’ said Art Haedike, president of the Gulf Harbors Civic Association.

County Administrator Dan Biles said the commission could consider spreading the cost of future capital improvements – but not the purchase price debt – on all of the 110,000 customers in the county utility system.

Charging all county customers for the capital improvements would lower Lindrick monthly bills by $7.43, but require a 33-cents-per-month increase for the rest of the county.

The proposed countywide subsidy was greeted with reluctance from Moore, Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr. and Commissioner Ronald Oakley.

"Going to ratepayers not on the (Lindrick) system ... we’ve got to be fair to everyone,’’ said Wells.

The commission made no final decision, but said it would seek public input from Gulf Harbors residents and also try to determine if it could identify other costs savings before authorizing the acquisition.

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