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Pasco, Port Richey have unresolved disputes over city-county utility service areas

The Hampton Inn is located in unincorporated Pasco but spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to send the hotel's wastewater through a Port Richey municipal lift station.

The big reason? Though the U.S. 19 hotel was closer to county water and sewer hookups, it fell into the city's utility service area. That meant it had to connect to Port Richey's lines.

The issue inspired state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to propose a bill last January that said developers in unincorporated Pasco may connect to nearby county water and sewer pipes, regardless of which service territory they fall in.

"Everyone believed Port Richey had total control over that service area," said Rich Bekesh, president of Spring Engineering, which worked on the project.

But it turns out that may not have been the case.

Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday signed off on a letter to Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober saying that the board had never adopted updates to a 1987 service agreement between the city and county. Among other things, those updates placed the Hampton Inn property in city utility territory.

Commissioners did vote to adopt those new service boundary maps in 2000. But county attorneys now say that decision was not binding: They say the board approved the new maps only on the condition the two sides resolve other disputes, including how much the city could charge its customers who live in unincorporated Pasco. Those disputes were not resolved.

The upshot? Only the 1987 map is good. And the Hampton Inn property is not in Port Richey's service area on that map, say Pasco officials.

The letter to Rober asks for city officials to meet with their counterparts in the county to negotiate updates to the 23-year-old agreement.

"The city has been operating under the impression that the proposed 2000 map had been officially adopted," assistant county attorney Joe Richards wrote in a memo to commissioners. "This mistaken impression led to the dispute over the Hampton Inn."

But the city wasn't the only one. Pasco Utilities director Bruce Kennedy also believed the hotel fell into the city's service area. His office even negotiated a resolution in which the city would allow Pasco to take on Hampton Inn as a sewer customer.

But the hotel and city eventually worked out a different arrangement.

It's too late for the Hampton Inn, but future projects could be affected if the service territory areas are resolved through negotiations.

The service area boundaries aren't as clear-cut as they should be, Kennedy has said. Those areas are a product of a historical pattern that included private utilities being purchased by public ones.

Pasco and Port Richey had a number of disputes when they tried to renegotiate in 2000. Those differences included the maximum prices the city would charge customers who happen to live in unincorporated Pasco as well as who would pay to build water interconnects.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco, Port Richey have unresolved disputes over city-county utility service areas 12/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 8:54pm]
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