ST. PETE BEACH — It's official. Your next sewer bill will be 30 percent higher.
The increase, approved unanimously by the City Commission last week, is just the first installment in what promises to be a multiyear program of further rate increases and borrowing to refurbish the finances and infrastructure of the city's 50-year-old sewer system.
"Treatment costs have continued to escalate, however, our rates have not increased," said Commissioner Christopher Leonard, stressing that this year's rate increase is aimed at covering growing treatment costs and beginning to pay back the city's general fund.
In the past few years, 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.
"This increase does not fund any of the major capital improvement projects," said city public services director Steve Hallock. But the increased revenue, he said, will help the city get a better interest rate when it borrows money to improve the system.
The city needs to spend more than $8-million to repair the sewer system, including $1.5-million to replace the major pipeline that runs under Boca Ciega Bay to the treatment plant. If that line is cut, sewage would spill into the bay. In addition, manholes, force mains, and pumping and lift stations throughout the city need to be replaced or repaired.
The rate increase officially went into effect Jan. 1 and will be followed by a 7.5 percent rate increase in January 2010 and another in January 2011. Sewer or wastewater treatment rates are based on the amount of water used by residential and commercial customers.
For residents and businesses using about 4,000 gallons of water, the fee increase means the bimonthly 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.
The residential base rate increased 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 come after a 12.5 percent sewer fee increase that went into effect last year — the first rate increase in about eight years.