BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County water and sewer customers will see steady rate increases for water usage in the coming years as the result of a new fee schedule approved Tuesday by the County Commission.
For a customer using an average 8,000 gallons of water a month, the rate at the end of the five-year phase-in period will increase nearly 25 percent from about $60 to about $75.
The increasing rates, which take effect Oct. 1, are needed to pay for the growing utility system and to maintain aging infrastructure, said Robert Ori, president of Public Resource Management Group, the county's rate analyst.
Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's environmental services director, said the wastewater plant consolidation the county has been working on for the past five years originally was estimated to be far more expensive. A couple of years ago, however, officials re-evaluated the plan and realized that the growth would not likely be as robust, so they found ways to make the improvements more efficiently.
The new rates are expected to bring the county $6.25 million in new revenue over the next five years to accomplish such projects as expanding the airport wastewater treatment plan, decommissioning the troublesome Osowaw plant in Spring Hill and building lines to take wastewater from Osowaw to the airport and the Glen plants.
The proposal didn't sit well with everyone.
"I'm not really for these rate increases," said John Murphy, vice president of United Communities of Hernando County, a group that represents numerous homeowners and community organizations.
Hernando residents "have been beaten to death" by rising costs and the flagging economy, Murphy argued. He said he was particularly concerned about residents who have tried hard to save water and be environmentally responsible.
Goebel-Canning noted the county is keeping its existing rate structure, which charges a lower per-gallon fee for those who use less water. She also said the rate increases are about the same level as the inflation rate.
As the agency that regulates the utility, Commissioner Dave Russell said, the County Commission must make sure that the system maintains its financial solvency and its ability to serve the community. There are 61,600 county water and 30,000 wastewater customers.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.