Thursday, May 24, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg again looking to raise utility rates

ST. PETERSBURG— A City Council committee will take a first look today at a proposal to tack on $2.56 to the average resident's utility bill, or a 4.75 percent hike. Much of the proposed increase would cover spending on big-ticket projects, which city officials say would save ratepayers in the long run.

The typical residential household using 4,000 gallons of water and wastewater would pay $56.39 if the increase is approved. The city has raised the cost of those services every year since 1995, except for 1997-1998.

One major outlay would be the construction of a sludge conditioning facility that would convert methane gas to natural gas to power city trucks. Closing the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility also would ultimately save money.

Together, those moves would save ratepayers about $60 million over 20 years, said public works administrator Mike Connors.

Meanwhile — to maintain good credit and a higher bond rating to help pay for these projects — the utility would transfer $1 million from its operating budget into a capital improvement fund for at least the next five years, Connors said.

Another factor is that city residents and businesses are using slightly more water. And low interest rates in the city's water cost stabilization fund are netting lower-than-average returns of less than 2 percent, he said.

A recent rate study reduced the original projection of a 5.5 percent increase. Still, the proposal would be the largest percentage increase since 2010-11.

The Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee will consider the increase today. It also will be vetted at two city budget hearings on Sept. 4 and 18.

Council members are still digesting the details but want to hear the case made for more hikes.

"I'm going to try to do everything I can not to have increases," said council member Charlie Gerdes.

Connors said that by analyzing needs over several years, the utility will spare customers from "big spikes."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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