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Tarpon Springs considers another water rate increase

TARPON SPRINGS — It's the trickle down effect, Tarpon Springs officials say.

Tampa Bay Water is charging Pinellas County more for water. In turn, Pinellas County is charging the cities and towns it supplies more.

Now, Tarpon Springs is considering passing the increase on to its residents.

It's an effect that Tarpon Springs officials say they have no control over now. But once a $45 million water treatment plant is completed, perhaps a year and a half from now, managing water rates can be done in-house.

"The problem for us right now is the county raised its rates significantly, and as long as we buy our water, we have no control over the rates," said Mayor Beverley Billiris. "If the county raises its rates to us, we have to raise ours to residents. When we become independent, we could better control those rates."

An 8 percent water cost increase to the city took effect Oct. 1. Another 13 percent increase is expected next October.

As a result of those higher costs and other factors, Burton and Associates, a consultant for Tarpon, has recommended increasing the rates for both water and sewer an additional 2 percent each a year for seven years.

That's in addition to an 8.75 percent water rate increase commissioners approved in 2008.

Starting Oct. 1, under the recommendation, a typical resident would pay $69.36 a month for water and sewer utilities, a $1.31 increase from the previously approved plan. By 2015, it would be $87.50.

The rate is based on single-family households with water and sewer services that use 6,500 gallons a month.

"The water and sewer fund are run like a business," said Arie Walker, the city's finance director. "In a business, you charge for a service and you get a product. The charges have to support the enterprise fund and pay the debt."

The sewer and water funds are supported through user fees, and when necessary, include debt for capital improvements. The city manages its own wastewater treatment facility.

A factor playing into the rate increase is that the city's population is now not expected to grow — diminishing expectations of the amount of money that would come in, officials say.

Tarpon Springs had intended to have its own water supply by the end of this year, but its water treatment facility plans have stalled in the permitting process.

The Burton & Associates report said that if the water facility isn't built, residents' utility bills would go up 6.5 percent annually over the next 10 years.

Residents are not happy about the increases.

Lynda Cashiola, 54, said she thinks commissioners should figure out a way to halt constant increases.

"I know so many people in Pinellas County without jobs and a lot of people have made a lot of sacrifices from top to bottom," Cashiola said. "It's not time to be raising anything for anybody. You are going to have a loss of tax revenue but you are going to turn around and load up everybody else's back with it. There are other solutions."

City officials note that Tarpon's sewer and water rates are still comparable to those from other county municipalities. But they are aware of residents' concerns.

"I'm still not sold on a rate increase, but what can we do to reduce the rate or get it to stay the same when we are forced to pay more?" asked Commissioner Chris Alahouzos. "It's a tough situation."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or 727-445-4174.

. Fast facts

If you go

A public hearing on the proposed rate increase will be 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at Tarpon Springs City Hall, 324 East Pine St.

Tarpon Springs considers another water rate increase 12/30/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 7:35pm]
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