PORT RICHEY — The city's increased water rates are causing sticker shock for residents who have received their first bills under the new tier rate structure.
Several residents made their displeasure known at a Port Richey City Council meeting Tuesday, as they presented bills issued Nov. 15 that have skyrocketed by hundreds of dollars in some cases.
Last month, the City Council passed an ordinance that put the new rates for residential and commercial users into effect after months of wrangling. The increase amounts are based on usage. For instance, residential users of 3,000 gallons-a-month saw a $3.47 increase of 8.1 percent, while use of 5,000 gallons-a-month brought a $9.57 increase, a hike of 16.9 percent.
For local attorney George Psetas, and others who came to protest the new rates, it is skyrocketing increases on their irrigation meters that had them shocked. The city offers irrigation meters as an option for people who would like to pay for bulk water use. Psetas, who lives in Harbor Point, said his bill jumped from $84 to $668. He also said the city billed him for using 17,000 gallons when the previous month he was billed for 8,000 gallons, but he irrigated the same amount during both billing cycles.
"I'm hoping there's been some mistake. We're here to object to the new rates," he said.
Mayor Eloise Taylor urged any customers with concerns to bring their bill to City Hall to have staff review it for accuracy, adding that the council held several public meetings on the water rates with experts on hand and the new rate structure was approved with an eye toward encouraging conservation. There were no objections from the public during those meetings.
The push for new water rates came last year as City Manager Tom O'Neill dealt with a brown water outbreak that brought a flood of complaints and was later to found to be caused by saltwater intrusion in the city's wells. As a remedy, the city backed down its pumping of the wells and began buying water from New Port Richey to meet its needs.
O'Neill also ordered an emergency study to examine the city's water rates — which had not been increased for nearly a decade — in order to combat the city's aging utility infrastructure, pay for increased water costs, and to build reserves in the utility fund.
Harbor Isles resident Todd Wolf told the council that he wanted to see exactly where the city plans to spend the influx of cash from the new rates because, he said, when he filled up his pool recently the water quality did not appear improved.
"It looked like chocolate," he said.