GULFPORT — City sewer fees could rise more than 22 percent this spring if the City Council approves a rate increase recommended by the city administration.
Similarly, water fees could rise 7.75 percent.
When comparing these rates to those charged by 11 municipalities and Pinellas County, the city would shift from ranking 10th to seventh for water and from the lowest to sixth for sewer service.
Earlier this year, Indian Rocks Beach increased its sewer fees by about 60 percent. St. Pete Beach is considering a 30 percent hike in its sewer fees.
Dan Carpenter, Gulfport's administrative services director, says the council will not vote on the rates until at least February. The earliest they would go into effect would be March, he said.
If they are approved, utility bills for the average water user (2,000 gallons a month) would be $43.24 a month, an increase of about $3. Customers using 4,000 gallons of water a month would pay $66.75 a month, a $6 increase over current rates.
"This is something we've got to do," said council member Bob Worthington during a recent workshop discussion.
"Nobody likes to pay more, but in order to maintain our system, we've got to do this," he said.
Before a decision is made, the council plans to hold another workshop, possibly a town hall meeting, to discuss the need to raise utility rates and other budget changes the city is considering for next year.
Interim City Manager Jim O'Reilly said the city would continue to use transfers from the utility fund to help pay for general city operations. For example, the city transferred more than $1-million from its utility fund this year to balance its overall budget.
In the past, the city subsidized cost increases for water and sewage treatment, a practice that is no longer affordable or even legal, he said.
The city purchases water from St. Petersburg and sends its waste water to St. Petersburg for treatment. Under the original agreement with that city, Gulfport is prohibited from charging its residents less for water and sewer services than St. Petersburg charges its residents.
Gulfport must raise its rates, he said, just to meet that contract obligation.
In addition, the utility fund reserve must be replenished to allow the city to continue rehabilitating its water and sewer systems.
As another option, O'Reilly said, his staff has begun preliminary discussions to see if either Pinellas County or St. Petersburg would be interested in taking over Gulfport's water and sewer systems.