Pinellas County is poised to become the latest government to raise water and sewer rates even as consumption falls.
The County Commission will have a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider rate increases for water and sewer customers.
If passed, the typical household, which now pays $64 a month, would see water and sewer charges increase $1.50 a month starting Oct. 1. It amounts to a 3.5 percent increase for water and 1.5 percent for sewer service.
If a household is one of 27,000 Pinellas customers with reclaimed water, the monthly cost would increase another $5.
The timing of increases during a recession has irked some residents — particularly when the county's water use has dropped by a third since 2006 as conservation increased.
"You ask us to conserve water, and now that we have, you want to penalize us," resident Kathryn Speigel wrote in an online complaint to the county.
But utility officials shift the blame to rising charges by Tampa Bay Water, the regional water authority, and costs to keep the system running. Reclaimed water, for example, costs more than the fees from customers generate.
"There are still costs that have to be covered to maintain the utility," said Kevin Becotte, interim director of Pinellas County Utilities. "Their bill may actually be going down if they're using less water, even if the unit price is going up."
The St. Petersburg City Council approved a water rate increase of 7.5 percent, despite protests from some residents that in these economic times, the hike was too steep.
Only Wengay Newton voted against the rate increase. The increase goes into effect for the city's October water bill.
The average customer who uses 5,600 gallons will see his bill increase by $4.15 a month, from $55.66 to $59.81. That's the biggest annual increase since 2003.
It was necessitated because Tampa Bay Water, which is where the city gets its water, raised fees to the city by more than 16 percent, said Mike Connors, administrator of the city's public works.
Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.