DADE CITY — The City Commission voted 3-2 to raise water rates during a scheduled meeting Tuesday night.
The rates will increase to around $50 per month for the average water user, starting on the April water bill. Anyone building a new home will also see the water impact fee shoot up from $1,184 to $5,264 starting June 1.
More than 30 residents attended to discuss the proposed rate increase and learn the outcome of the vote.
Mayor Scott Black said that the aging infrastructure is the reason for the improvements.
"If your water and sewer don't operate, then we're out of business," Black said.
Public works director Jose Gil said if the improvements aren't made now, the city will not be able to take advantage of grants and low interest loans, and the city will have to pay much more to finance the project later.
Council member Curtis Beebe asked if an increase to impact fees could be tabled due to concern over the higher rates hurting development.
Gil said that if the impact fees were not raised, future residents and developers would have to pay a higher rate to make up for lower impact fees now. He also said the rates were based on improvements needed and a specific number of facilities being serviced.
Council member Camille Hernandez raised concerns that the new impact fees would become a barrier to houses built by Habitat for Humanity.
John Finnerty, president of East Pasco Habitat for Humanity, said the increase will hurt the most vulnerable residents, those who make under $50,000 a year, the most.
City Attorney Karla Owens said she will be willing to discuss concessions and impact fee credits with developers in the next few weeks and that developers will be able to pay the current rate upfront until the increase takes effect.
Many residents who spoke at the meeting were from The Pines subdivision.
Ed Gorecki, who works with Dade City code enforcement and lives in The Pines, said he was not opposed to the rate increase. But he said his subdivision receives poor water and sewer service, and he urged the city to schedule The Pines improvements near the top of the list.
"We don't like to have to pay for something we're not getting now," Gorecki said. "If you're going to increase the rates, you have to take care of the other stuff, too."
The Pines residents said for at least six years they have dealt with low water pressure and sprinklers, showers and faucets not drawing water. When water is pulled from fire hydrants, the water flowing to private homes no longer works.
While water line tests and past officials say the water problems were solved at The Pines, Beebe said it sounded like residents weren't getting the services promised.