ST. PETE BEACH — Residents here are facing a 45 percent hike in their sewer bills — on top of a 12.5 percent increase that went into effect in February.
The city also faces spending $8.2-million for major repairs to its aging sewer system.
"We've got to bite the bullet," Mayor Michael Finnerty said last week in response to a consultant's study of the city's sewer system and rate structure that began eight months ago.
"You must implement a change in rates as soon as possible," warned Rob Ori, a principal with the consulting firm Public Resources Management Group. "If you don't, you will continue to borrow from the general fund, and that is not a position I recommend the city be in."
To date, the city has dipped into its general fund reserves to cover $1.2-million in sewer system costs.
The proposed sewer rate would increase average residential bills from $16.80 to $24.89 a month, based on use of 3,000 gallons a month.
A year ago, residents were paying $14.70 a month.
Because sewer fees are included in bimonthly water bills, every two months residents would pay an additional $16.80 more than they pay now.
That's $20.38 more than a year ago.
The recommended rate increase would put St. Pete Beach's sewer fees among the highest charged by cities in Pinellas County. Currently, only Gulfport charges less.
Under the new rate structure, only Treasure Island and Indian Rocks Beach would charge more.
The rate increase would allow the city to repay the $1.2-million general fund loan within five years, begin to build a $2.3-million capital improvements reserve to cover normal maintenance and repairs, and establish enough revenue to finance a $5.9-million loan or bond issue needed to finance major repairs.
"Your wastewater system's financial position is not very good," Ori said. "In 2007 you had a zero cash balance in the system, and you had to borrow more than $1-million from your general fund for operations. Without any rate relief, your deficit is expected to be even greater this year."
The city's sewer system was built in 1957 and includes 38.7 miles of gravity lines, 751 manholes, 2.8 miles of force mains, three pump stations, 14 lift stations and a new master pump station at 87th Avenue and Boca Ciega Drive.
The city uses 500-million gallons of water but sends about 1-billion gallons of wastewater a year to St. Petersburg for treatment.
Treatment costs escalated from $1.75-million in 2004 to $2.42-million in 2007.
The commission will discuss the recommendations at a special meeting Nov. 18. A final decision is expected by January. The new rates would go into effect by February.