Two bills signed last Friday by Gov. Rick Scott directly impact Pasco County: One lowers homeowner assessments in Trinity while the other establishes water quality standards for private utility companies.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said he sponsored the Water Consumer Protection Act after reading news accounts about Summertree residents' fight with their water provider, Utilities Inc. of Florida.
For years, residents of the sprawling community south of State Road 52 in west Pasco complained about the yellowish color, smell and bad taste of their water. Despite that, state regulators the Public Service Commission awarded Utilities Inc. a 20 percent rate increase in November, triggering protests from the residents.
The law signed last Friday does three main things: establishes standards for taste, color and odor, allows the commission to consider those standards along with existing safety levels when judging rate cases, and gives consumers a mechanism to appeal to the commission to review their water quality.
"What the bill did is a sweeping change in how we expect our private utilities to provide water and sewer service to the people of Florida," Simpson said. "It changes the matrix to allow the consumer to petition the PSC to review water quality and allows, if necessary, (the utility's) certificate to be revoked by the commission. It's the single biggest pro-consumer legislation in years."
The other law approved late last week gives Heritage Lakes residents a break on an annual homeowner assessment.
The assessment was connected to a decision by Pasco commissioners in April to purchase 41.5 acres from a Clearwater developer who had planned an apartment complex called the Oaks at Riverside.
The decision, backed by residents who live near the project, stopped the apartments from moving forward and provided the county a place for an eventual flood-control system.
In return for the land purchase, which cost the county $3 million, 1,600 residents from Heritage Lakes, Riverside Chase and Riverside would have been forced to pay a $135 assessment for 15 years.
The bill, pushed by Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, and Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, cut that assessment in half.
Corcoran said he intends to seek another $1.5 million next year to eliminate the assessment altogether.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.