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Hernando County commissioners to consider smaller water-sewer rate increase

BROOKSVILLE — A scaled-back water and sewer rate increase lands before the County Commission today as a way to pay for an estimated $150 million in wastewater and water projects.

The new proposal would boost rates for customers of both county water and sewer service by 25.2 percent compared to an earlier recommended hike of 35.2 percent. The increases would be phased in over five years.

Commissioners tabled discussion last month after commission Chairman Dave Russell suggested the county use $3.5 million in an escrow account to help with loans needed for the infrastructure improvements.

That money is escrowed in case the county loses a lawsuit that has been winding its way through court for five years concerning Florida Water Services deposits. The case is now in federal court.

But even that isn't enough to give the county the debt-ratio rating needed to borrow for the projects if rates aren't raised, utilities director Joe Stapf said Monday. "It offsets it some,'' he said.

A county water customer who uses 8,000 gallons a month, an average usage amount, now pays $13.96 a month. The original proposal and the new proposal would actually decrease that rate to $13.11 in the next year.

Under the original proposal, that bill would rise to $15.59 by 2014. Under the new proposal, the bill would increase to $15.43.

The total monthly utility bill for customers using both county water and sewer is $42.25. Under the first plan, that would have gone to $43.01 in the next year. In the new proposal, the total bill would be $41.40, a decrease.

By 2010, the total bill would have climbed to $57.12 under the original plan. Under the new proposal, the total bill would be $52.90.

"The largest impact remains on the sewer rate,'' Stapf said. "That's where we have got the most issues that need to be addressed.''

Changes in commercial and connection fees are also part of the proposal that will be considered by the commission during today's public hearing.

Much of the county's work plan involves beefing up larger, more-efficient sewer treatment facilities and shutting smaller, more troublesome facilities. Stapf said he has also looked at slowing down some of those projects to schedule them with a more realistic time line.

The county plans to pay for the work using low-interest loans through the State Revolving Fund. While county officials had hoped to secure about $10 million in federal stimulus money to help foot the bill, Stapf was notified recently that Hernando didn't make the original cut to be funded.

Money from utility reserves will make up the remainder of the costs associated with the water and sewer projects.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County commissioners to consider smaller water-sewer rate increase 06/08/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 8, 2009 5:58pm]
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