TAMPA — Here's some more tough news in a tanking economy: Tampa sewer bills are probably going up.
Based on a recommendation from Mayor Pam Iorio, the City Council later this summer will consider increasing rates by 34.5 percent over the next three years.
The increase, outlined for the council on Thursday, means the average residential sewer charge would go up by about $4.90 a month this year and $12.90 by 2012.
Average monthly utility bills would increase by about $7.53 this year when combined with an already approved five-year plan for increasing water rates.
The proposal also would increase a surcharge on customers outside the city who use Tampa's sewer system, to 25 percent from 18 percent.
The hike requires a vote by City Council after public hearings. If approved, the new rates would go into effect Oct. 1.
"This is a horrible time to be presenting a rate increase. We know that," city finance director Bonnie Wise told the council. "If not for the importance, we would not be standing before you asking for this because we recognize the difficult situation all of our citizens are in."
City officials say without the increase the department won't be able to cover its operating expenses in coming years.
"We're not happy about this," said Ralph Metcalf, director of Tampa's wastewater department. "But without these rate increases, we will run out of money in 2011."
Costs for things such as chemicals to treat the water, electricity and personnel are increasing.
Meanwhile, revenues to support the department's $98.7 million budget are declining.
The closure of the Smithfield Foods meat packing plant in Plant City, which relied on the city to treat its wastewater, will slice $800,000 a year from the department's revenue.
The department will also lose $2.5 million annually when Hillsborough County ends its contract with the city to treat wastewater from Brandon next year.
The economic downturn has caused a 1.5 percent decline in active accounts in 2009. And with less construction in the city, income from new connection fees has dropped to $1.9 million in 2009 from $6.6 million in 2006.
Tampa's sewer rates are lower than others in the region. An average sewer customer in Tampa pays about $33.60 a month. Temple Terrace customers pay about $51.40 monthly. Hillsborough County customers pay about $47.22 a month.
The increase will cover small repairs and maintenance of the system, but no major construction projects.
Metcalf said the tight budget means sewer pipes are patched when necessary and pipe replacement is limited to those about to burst and spew sewage.
"We are waiting until the last minute," he said.
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3401.