ZEPHYRHILLS — City water and sewer customers will likely see a rate increase at some point in 2012, but City Council members won't decide until after the first of the year.
After complaints of high water rates from a mobile home park community earlier this year, the city commissioned a rate study. The findings were presented to the City Council during its regular meeting Monday night.
The study found that Zephyrhills has the lowest rates in all of Pasco County, as well as the cities of Lakeland and Tampa, and Hillsborough and Polk counties. Even if it increased its rates, Zephyrhills could remain among the cheapest, according to Burton & Associates, which conducted the survey. The company recommends the city increase its single-family rates by 10 percent a year for the next three years, followed by 5 percent annual increases the years after that.
This would mean an average home that uses 4,000 gallons of water per month would see their bill increase about $3 per month in the first year. Those who use more water would see a greater rate increase, which officials hope would create an incentive to conserve water. A home that uses 12,000 gallons a month would see a $20 spike in its bill.
Master-metered residential customers, such as in Sleepy Hollow Mobile Home Park, would actually see a drop in water rates under the proposed new billing system. A park that uses 500,000 gallons monthly would save about $251.
Without the rate adjustments, the city would not be able to fund any significant improvements to the city, which could lead to service failure, said Andy Burnham, senior vice president of Burton & Associates. Currently, the city has about $43.5 million in capital improvement projects needed for the water and sewer systems. The city has about 300 miles of pipe which have a lifespan of about 50 years, so in any given year an average of six miles must be replaced or repaired at a cost of $2 million just to keep things running smoothly, Burnham said.
The city's last rate study was done in 2006, according to city utilities director David Henderson, and city water customers have seen only 5 percent increases in recent years.
"We probably average three to five leaks a day," Henderson said of the city's pipes.
City council members won't decide what kind of a rate increase is necessary until after the first of the year, but acknowledge there's a need for one just to keep up with maintenance costs.
"The bottom line is we're not charging enough," said Council Vice President Kent Compton.