The price of drinking water may be going up for most Pinellas residents for the third consecutive year.
Also slated to increase are sewer and reclaimed water rates.
County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the increases at their Sept. 29 meeting. The increases — ranging from 5 percent to 11 percent — would go into effect on Oct. 1 for everybody who gets their water directly from Pinellas County. That includes residents of Seminole, the beach communities and much of the unincorporated area.
Folks who get their water from Pinellas Park, Clearwater, Oldsmar, Tarpon Springs or Safety Harbor may also see their rates increase. Those cities buy their water from the county and could pass the increases to their customers. St. Petersburg does not buy its water from the county.
This is the third year in a row that the county has moved to increase water rates. The county increased rates by 3 percent each of the past two years.
Tom Crandall, director of Pinellas County Utilities, said the proposed increases are prompted by several factors, primarily a 6.8 percent price increase by Tampa Bay Water, which supplies the county's water. Another reason is declining revenues caused, in part, by a decrease in use — an ironic consequence of conservation. The lower revenues mean that Pinellas County is having a hard time coming up with the money required to pay off bonds that were sold to build and maintain the system and to maintain reserves that could be needed for repairs and operations.
Crandall said the county has done all it can to cut costs rather than raise rates, including staff reductions.
"We are unable to reduce any further," Crandall said.
Under the proposal, both retail and wholesale sewer rates would increase by 5 percent. The county estimates that increase would bring in a total of about $2.5 million. Of that, $2.2 million would come from retail customers — those who are billed directly by the county — and $330,110 would come from wholesale sales — those to the five cities that buy water from the county.
The rates for water would increase by 8 percent. The county estimates that would generate an additional $6.2 million. About $4.7 million of that would come from retail customers and the remaining $1.4 million would come from the wholesale customers.
The retail rates for reclaimed water would increase 11 percent, which is estimated to bring in an extra $136,000.
It is unclear how the proposed changes would affect customers in the five cities.
In Pinellas Park, for example, the news of the proposed increase came after the last July council meeting and before next Tuesday's workshop so members have not had a chance to weigh in. In the past, the city has not always passed on rate increases to its customers, but city spokesman Tim Caddell said he doubts the council will be able to do that this time.
The county's raising rates because it has certain obligations, Caddell said. Pinellas Park has similar responsibilities, such as the payment of bonds sold to improve or build the system. But Caddell said he does not foresee the council doing anything more than simply passing on the increase.
A trickier problem, he said, is the timing of the increase. The city has to give residents 60 days' notice before raising rates, but the county won't make its decision until late September for a rate change that will go into effect two days later.
That could leave the city holding the bag for the increase until November or December. One solution, Caddell said, would be for the city to start the process for a change now and tie the amount to whatever the county decides to do.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.