ST. PETE BEACH — Sewer rates for both residential and commercial customers may jump 30 percent next month.
Sewer — or the city's new term, "wastewater" — rates are also expected to rise another 7.5 percent in each of the next two years to bring the total increase to 45 percent.
That is what is needed, according to a recent consultant study, to bring the city's utility back into the black and provide enough money in future years to maintain and repair the aging 50-year-old system.
The commission unanimously approved the new rate schedule earlier this month and will hold a public hearing and final vote on Tuesday, Jan. 13. If approved, the new rates will go into immediate effect and appear on February sewer and water bills.
For residents using about 4,000 gallons of water, this year's proposed fee hike would mean the bi-monthly sewer portion of utility bills will jump from $44.80 to $58.46. This represents more than an $80 annual increase for typical residential users.
Sewer or wastewater treatment rates are based on the amount of water used by residential and commercial customers.
The proposed residential base rate will rise from $16.80 to $21.98 for the first 3,000 gallons and from $5.60 to $7.25 for each additional 1,000 gallons of water used.
The new rates follow a 12.5 percent sewer fee increase that went into effect last year.
"For eight years the city did not raise rates," Steve Hallock told the commission earlier this month.
Then the economy slowed, city revenues dropped and treatment costs charged by St. Petersburg increased.
The result is the city was forced to borrow $1.2-million from its general fund to support the utility's operations. Last year alone, treatment costs were $430,000 more than what the city budgeted.
The consulting firm, Public Resources Management Group, originally recommended increasing sewer rates 45 percent this year.
Instead, the commission decided to spread the increase out over three years and delay major repairs for at least a year.
The city says it needs to spend more than $8-million to repair the sewer system's aging infrastructure, including $1.5-million to replace the major pipeline that runs under Boca Ciega Bay to the treatment plant.
If that line is cut, raw sewage would spill into the bay.
In addition, the city needs to repair or replace manholes, force mains, and pumping and lift stations throughout the city.
Hallock previously told the commission delaying repairs is like "rolling the dice" and said he could not guarantee a major break in the system would not happen.
However, because of time needed for planning and engineering, he said repairs would not be significantly delayed.