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Water rates rise to fund Aloha buyout

NEW PORT RICHEY — A public agency taking over the often-criticized Aloha Utilities approved rate hikes Monday that are necessary to close the $90.5-million sale next month.

A customer in Seven Springs or Trinity who uses 7,000 gallons of water each month will see his total bill go from $55 to $88 under the plan approved by the Florida Governmental Utility Authority's board of directors.

Officials with the authority said the increase is significantly less than the $140 Aloha would likely propose charging that same customer for other improvements if the sale does not go through. Aloha president Steve Watford did not return a phone message for comment Monday.

Pasco joined the authority in October with the hopes of acquiring small, private utility operations around the county. The agency buys the utilities and runs them until local governments can take over.

First on the lineup: Aloha Utilities, whose customers have complained for more than a decade about the quality of the water coming from their taps.

Last month, Pasco County commissioners voted 5-0 to purchase Aloha's assets. To finance the purchase and the necessary improvements, the agency will float $110-million in bonds.

Engineers for the authority have come up with a $12-million game plan to tackle a number of the utility's problems. That plan includes abandoning two wells with black water, purchasing additional water from Pasco utilities, installing odor-control equipment and rehabilitating aging lift stations.

The improvements will take about two years to complete, said Gary Deremer, president of U.S. Water Services, which is a consultant on the project.

"We're not going flip a switch and all of the sudden all these water quality issues are going to be better," he told the agency's board Monday.

Aloha has about 25,000 customers in the Seven Springs-Trinity area and in Aloha Gardens in Holiday. Aloha Gardens customers who use about 7,000 gallons per month will see their bills go from $83 to $88.

Most of the problems have centered in Seven Springs and Trinity, and the Mitchell Road plant would see much of the money for capital improvements.

About 30 people attended Monday's hearing, and a handful of Aloha customers who spoke said they were disappointed with the rate increase — but are willing to live with it if it means a break from Aloha.

"Yes, I will pay your $88 a month and I will trust you to make all those improvements," said Trinity resident Donna Vaurio.

John Andrews, also of Trinity, said he would be saving some money if quality improves enough that he no longer has to purchase filters and bottled water. "That cost will now go into the higher rates," he said.

Ed Wood, who lives in Trinity, said a year ago he woke up, got out of bed and found himself ankle deep in water after a burst pipe. He said it cost him and his insurance company $7,000.

"I can't wait until we've gotten rid of Aloha," he said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Water rates rise to fund Aloha buyout 11/24/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 6:18pm]
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