One of the troubling bills flushed in the just-concluded 2010 legislative session was a local effort from Sen. Mike Fasano and Rep. John Legg that could have proved detrimental to the city of Port Richey's utilities.
The bill, inspired by Hampton Inn & Suites on U.S. 19, would have allowed future Port Richey utility customers to join the county system if a connection was available nearby. Legislators approved the bill with little comment at the Pasco legislative delegation in January, but it never advanced in either the House or Senate.
That was smart. The proposed legislation was a poorly researched, knee-jerk reaction to a constituent complaint that is best handled at the local level.
Fasano correctly retreated after learning of the potential impact on Port Richey's long-term finances. The city assumed a multimillion-dollar debt when it expanded its well field in 2008, and the current city budget shows its utility spending $382,000, or 10 percent of the department's budget, toward reducing that obligation. The city sized its utility to accommodate growth and, under a worst case scenario, diminishing its future customer base could have meant higher rates for existing customers as the city worked to retire its debt.
Those future customers could have gone elsewhere because the bill allowed them to cherry pick their water and sewer providers if a connection was within 100 feet of the county's pipes. The proposal was in reaction to the developer and engineering team at Hampton Inn and Suites who complained about the $125,000 cost to go under U.S. 19 to connect to the city's water pipes west of the highway instead of hooking to the county system on the east side of the road.
The motel is north of city limits, but within its utility service area spelled out in an agreement with Pasco County.
Under state law, municipal governments can extend their utility boundaries several miles beyond their corporate limits and charge rates 25 percent higher than what city residents and businesses pay.
This dispute doesn't require a remedy from Tallahassee, but it does warrant local attention. Pasco County and Port Richey have a valid contract, but it is worthy of review as the county promotes a long-range goal of redeveloping the U.S. 19 corridor. Adding unreasonable costs on new businesses isn't much of an incentive to redevelopment.