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Summertree residents fight water, sewer rate increases, demand better quality

NEW PORT RICHEY — They lined up at the podium, each with a story about how their water smells like rotten eggs, leaves stains, tastes bitter or causes mineral buildup so bad they have to clean their shower heads weekly.

But what infuriated residents of the Summertree community most, they said, is that on top of the smells, yellowish color and bathtub stains, the utility that provides the water, Utilities Inc. of Florida, is seeking a 36-percent rate hike on water service and an 8.5-percent increase on sewer service.

About 130 residents showed up last week at a hearing before the state's Public Service Commission to argue, sometimes loudly, that Utilities Inc. should be required to improve the neighborhood's water quality without the rate increase.

The 1,200-home community on State Road 52 about two miles east of Little Road dates to the 1970s. Longtime residents said they enjoyed good water for years, but lately the quality has dropped off and now is so bad that many won't drink it, fearing urinary or kidney illnesses.

The company started to inject chemicals a couple years ago to improve overall safety. While residents applauded that effort, they said it doesn't go far enough to justify the rate hikes. Average water and sewer bills run from $80 to $85 a month, about double what many Pasco Utilities customers pay, residents said.

"They're asking a 36 percent increase. You should be angry. You should be telling them it's not fair," Ann Marie Ryan told PSC staff, sparking applause from the crowd.

The company filed for the increase on May 29 to cover increased operating costs and service improvements after 2011, including $2 million at a utility plant. In addition to Pasco, Utilities Inc. of Florida serves communities in Pinellas, Orange and Seminole counties. The PSC is expected to vote on the proposed increase Nov. 14.

Documents show the company serves two other Pasco neighborhoods, Buena Vista Manor and Oak Hill. It seemed, however, only Summertree residents attended last Wednesday's rate hearing.

Among them was Ron Scuderi, 75. He said he switches out the water filters and cleans the shower head weekly because of mineral buildup. Like other residents, he refuses to drink the water.

"I have to clean the water faucets and shower head with a toothpick," he said. "They should not be asking for this increase and giving us garbage."

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com (727) 869-6236.

Summertree residents fight water, sewer rate increases, demand better quality 08/12/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 12, 2013 1:59pm]
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