DADE CITY — Get caught the first time sprinkling on the wrong day and it costs $30, plus about $12 in administrative costs.
In the parched Tampa Bay area, that's a bargain, said Bruce Kennedy, assistant county administrator who oversees the Pasco County Utilities Department.
Citing extreme drought conditions, Kennedy wants to make first-timers hurt in hopes of deterring water scofflaws.
"Needless to say we're in pretty tough times," Kennedy told county commissioners, who gave their approval Tuesday for Kennedy to begin looking into higher fines. He will bring a proposal to a future meeting.
Kennedy said he wants to bring Pasco, which has the lowest fines in the area, in line with other counties, adding that Pasco will likely be forced to violate its pumping permits next month if conditions do not improve.
In Hillsborough, first-timers face a $100 fine, $200 for the second and so on, leading up to $500 for fifth and subsequent violations. Pinellas County simply levies a $188 fine per violation.
In Pasco, a second offense carries a $250 fine, while a third offense carries a maximum $500 fine and a court appearance.
Kennedy wants to raise a first-offense fine to $130 and a second offense to $260. A third offense would remain $500.
He said the county has stepped up its enforcement effort, with no more warnings being issued.
"We've been working overtime on that," he said, adding that the county has issued 900 citations since November.
Other governments have been able to do more, though, because they devote workers exclusively to enforcement or contract for the services. In Pasco, utilities workers write citations, along with code compliance staffers who have been deputized.
Kennedy said staffers have been working to publicize the restrictions and penalties through the county Web site and can also include fliers in water bills.
The move comes as state water officials are urging local governments to tighten up enforcement as the drought depletes water supplies.
On Feb. 24, the Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board asked utilities to be aggressive and try to reduce water use by 10 percent. The governing board will consider further conservation measures when it meets March 31.
Currently, Pasco County's lawn and landscape watering restrictions allow for one-day-a-week watering, based on the last number of a user's address, between 12:01 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. to 11:59 p.m. on your designated day. Reclaimed-water customers remain on a two-day-per-week schedule, based upon the last number of their address.
Complete lawn and landscape watering restrictions and water conservation tips can be found at www.pascocountyfl.net under the Utilities Services link.
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.