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Pasco lawn watering fine for first-time offenders leaps by 333 percent

NEW PORT RICHEY — Violating the county's watering restrictions just got a lot more expensive, at least for first-timers.

Pasco County commissioners unanimously approved new fines for water scofflaws — people who run their sprinklers on the wrong day or at the wrong time.

First-time offenses, which were $30 plus court costs, now are $130. Those getting caught a second time face fines of $260, a $10 increase, while habitual offenders — those who get cited a third time and more — face the same fines, $500. That's because $500 is the maximum fine the county imposes for any violation.

Commissioners approved the heftier fines Tuesday with little discussion, after approving a resolution declaring April as Water Conservation Month.

Commission Chairman Jack Mariano voted with the others but said he preferred educating people first before punishing them.

The vote came two weeks after top administrators asked for the higher fines to cope with a three-year drought that has water regulators pondering whether to ask governments to enforce the toughest restrictions in history.

"This gives (the water restrictions) some real teeth," Jeff Harris, the county's environmental biologist, said of the higher fines.

Harris showed commissioners a PowerPoint presentation that outlined the conservation measures the county is taking. Among them:

• Restrict restaurants and public dining facilities to serve water to customers only upon request.

• Target residents with high water use with letters and tips to curb water use.

• Reduce water pressure where practical.

• Deputize 32 Pasco County Utility employees to supplement 19 code enforcement staffers in issuing citations.

• Begin a "flex" shift to patrol during early morning and night hours, seven days a week. Overtime was authorized for enforcement efforts.

• Accept reports of potential violators and mobilize code compliance staff to investigate.

Commissioners asked about a drought surcharge for heavy water users. That's tough to develop a system for with Pasco's outdated billing system, said Bruce Kennedy, assistant county administrator for utilities.

The county is currently replacing older meters with ones that can more closely monitor how much water is used and when.

Kennedy also said such a system has to take into account the size of a household. Larger families may use more water overall, but less per person than a smaller one.

"You've got to have equity," he said.

In other news

The County Commission unanimously approved hiring Richard E. Gehring as the new growth management administrator.

Gehring, 61, was planning director for Dunedin from 1974 to 1979 and city manager from 1979 to 1982. Since then he has worked as a private developer. He will replace Sam Steffey, who is retiring in April after 30 years of service. Gehring's salary is $100,000, and he will start immediately to ensure a smooth transition.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.


Fast Facts

Watering restrictions

• All county residents (as well as residents of Port Richey and all east Pasco municipalities) may water their lawns before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. on their designated watering day. Those days are Monday for addresses ending in 0 or 1; Tuesday for addresses ending in 2 or 3; Wednesday for addresses ending in 4 or 5; Thursday for addresses ending in 6 or 7; and Friday for addresses ending in 8 or 9.

• Reclaimed water customers may water twice a week: Tuesday and Friday for addresses ending in 0 or 1; Thursday and Sunday for addresses ending in 2 or 3; Monday and Friday for addresses ending in 4 or 5; Tuesday and Saturday for addresses ending in 6 or 7; Wednesday and Sunday for addresses ending in 8 or 9.

• Residents in the city limits of New Port Richey may water their lawns between 5 and 9 a.m. or 7 and 11 p.m. on their designated watering day. Addresses ending in an even number or the letters A through M water on Tuesdays; addresses ending in an odd number or the letters N through Z water on Sundays.

• For information on Pasco County watering restrictions, call (727) 847-8131 during normal business hours.

By the numbers

Number of water violation citations processed in Pasco

170 in November

152 in December

159 in January

264 in February

478 in March

Source: Pasco County Utilities

Pasco lawn watering fine for first-time offenders leaps by 333 percent 03/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 10:27pm]
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