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County, Port Richey must finalize water service agreement

New construction sites in west Pasco shouldn't need Rand McNally to pinpoint their location on government utility maps.

But that turned out to be the case in a well-publicized dispute over which government would serve a new hotel on U.S. 19 because the city of Port Richey and Pasco County have conflicting boundaries for their water and sewer service areas.

The disagreement provoked a short-lived bill in Tallahassee in which future customers would have been allowed to join the county utility system as long as the connection was within 100 feet of Pasco's pipes. The abandoned legislation from Sen. Mike Fasano and Rep. John Legg was inspired by the engineering team for Hampton Inn & Suites on the west side of U.S. 19 which complained about paying $125,000 to go under the highway to connect to the city's infrastructure on the road's east side.

The heart of the matter, however, was not a customer grab as had been feared by Port Richey. County research indicates the county and city failed to consummate a 10-year-old contract spelling out who would serve what area. Under state law, municipal utility systems can serve customers outside their corporate limits and charge premium rates of up to 25 percent higher than what their own residents pay.

County commissioners approved the maps in 2000 — which would have put the hotel's location in the city's service area — but it was contingent upon a finalized contract between the two governments. That agreement was never reached due to unresolved issues covering the maximum rate the city could charge in the county and questions over responsibility for connection costs. The lack of valid contract meant the original 1987 service agreement remained in place and those boundary maps put the Hampton Inn address in the county's jurisdiction.

The lack of clarity is distressing, particularly when it forces a private entity to fork over $125,000 unnecessarily. Both governments share responsibility. Port Richey was wrong to enforce a service area that had not been validated and Pasco County was remiss in not recognizing the oversight. More to the point, the inability to negotiate a final contract shouldn't reach into a new customer's wallet.

No state law is needed, just better government coordination. Port Richey now must respond to the county's offer to negotiate since the city's potential future customer base stands to shrink otherwise.

It is counterproductive not to act since both governments recognize the importance of redeveloping the aging commercial corridor along U.S. 19. Companies willing to invest millions redeveloping property deserve a correct answer when they wonder: Who will take care of the water?

County, Port Richey must finalize water service agreement 12/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 3:31pm]
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