ST. PETE BEACH — Reclaimed-water fees for residential and commercial properties could jump as much as 25 percent in October if the City Commission accepts the recommendations of a special rate study.
Also, properties not connected to the system may be required for the first time to pay an "availability fee." Pinellas County charges one.
Taxpayers are subsidizing the city's reclaimed-water system by about $90,000 each year, according to consultant Robert Ori of the Public Resources Management Group.
"The system has no cash balance, and by the end of this fiscal year it will owe about $400,000 to the general fund," Ori told the commission.
The study calls for a 25 percent rate increase in October and a follow-up rate increase in October 2011 of about 14 percent.
Those increases could be lower, Ori said, if the city begins charging $7.70 a month to nonusers to cover the costs of maintaining the system.
Residential reclaimed-water users pay a flat rate of $11.50 a month. Multifamily and commercial properties pay the same rate, plus $10 a month for each 3,150 square feet of permeable land area.
If the commission approves the increase, beginning in October reclaimed-water fees would increase to either $12.88 or $14.38 a month, depending on whether nonusers are charged the availability fee.
Those fees would rise again in October 2011 to either $13.91 or $16.39 a month.
City Manager Mike Bonfield said the commission must decide by June whether it will approve a rate increase.
Reclaimed water is produced by and bought from Pinellas County.
About 80 percent of properties are connected to the system: 2,205 single-family homes, 920 multifamily units and 758 commercial properties. An estimated 823 properties are not.
Last year, the commission approved a 30 percent increase in sewer rates for residents and commercial properties. Sewer rates jumped another 7.5 percent this past January and will go up again in January 2011. Sewer or wastewater treatment rates are based on the amount of water used by residential and commercial customers.
Before the sewer rate increase, the city was forced to borrow $1.2 million from its general fund to support the utility's operations. The rate increase also was needed to pay for more than $8 million to repair the sewer system's aging infrastructure.
Fixing similar, albeit smaller, revenue shortfalls in the reclaimed-water system was delayed until this year.
In 1992, city voters approved borrowing $24 million from the state to build the reclaimed-water system. Distribution lines were installed for every property in the city, but there was no requirement to actually connect and use the system.