GULFPORT — Both water and sewer rates are set for a major jump as city officials struggle to offset higher costs and generate enough money to repair aging systems.
On Tuesday, the City Council tentatively approved a 7.75 percent increase in water rates and a 22.32 percent increase in sewer fees. A second and final vote is scheduled for the council's April 21 regular meeting. If approved, the new rates will appear on May bills.
Gulfport buys its water from St. Petersburg through an agreement with the Tampa Bay Water Authority. St. Petersburg also treats Gulfport's wastewater.
"It's necessary to replenish and maintain our existing fund balance and comply with our purchase contract with St. Petersburg. They are presently selling us water cheaper than their residents can buy it," Interim City Manager Jim O'Reilly told the council.
Neither Gulfport nor St. Petersburg has any control over the cost of water. That price is set by the supplier, the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority.
The city's administrative services director, Dan Carpenter, told the council that when the current water contract expires in 2016, another "sizeable increase" of up to 25 percent is anticipated.
Similar cost increases in the past were subsidized by the city. Capital improvements to the water delivery system also were delayed, Carpenter said.
Gulfport residents using an average of 4,000 gallons of water a month currently pay $19.25 for water and $20.67 for sewer services.
The proposed new monthly rates for that level of use would rise to $22.72 for water and $26.28 for sewer.
The new water rates would range from $5.02 to $7.69 per 1,000 gallons, depending on overall water usage. The minimum rate applies to water usage of up to 3,000 gallons a month.
The new monthly sewer rates would range from $6.24 to $7.56 per 1,000 gallons, also depending on the total level of water usage.
Carpenter said that even with the increase, Gulfport's water and sewer rates will remain among the lowest in Pinellas County.
Newly elected council member Sam Henderson said the hikes are necessary. "The numbers sound bad, but I went through some of my past bills and this equates to a $6 to $8 a month increase," he said. "It's something we need to do if we are going to maintain our utilities."
In addition to bringing Gulfport's rates more in line with St. Petersburg's, the $476,100 increase in annual revenue will provide money to repair and replace the city's aging water and sewer lines.
Since 2003, the city has spent $4.3 million on improving the city's water and sewer infrastructure. Another $6.1 million is scheduled to be spent in the next five years.