Florida Public Service Commissioners agreed this week that a private utility provides marginal service to its customers, but then said the company can still stick it to consumers with new, higher rates for water and sewer service. Exactly how is that service to the public?
After months of collecting evidence and listening to testimony, and then debating during a marathon meeting Tuesday afternoon, the PSC knocked a whopping $39,000 off the multimillion-dollar rate increase previously approved for Aqua Utilities. The company gets to pass on new rates worth $2.57 million to its 23,750 water and sewer customers in 17 counties including residents in the west Pasco subdivisions of Jasmine Lakes and Palm Terrace Gardens and the Zephyr Shores mobile home park just west of Zephyrhills.
The only reasonable decision by the PSC was to eliminate the extra $200,000 its own staff recommended be tacked on the rate increase. Commission staffers said Tuesday the figures "were in error.''
No kidding. Still, it is of little solace to the utility's customers. Aqua's rates already are more than double what Pasco County Utilities charges. Final bills for each community have yet to be calculated, but previous testimony indicated customers in Zephyr Shores would see their monthly sewer bills double to $95 while water bills in Jasmine Lakes would more than triple to $66 monthly.
Sadly, the PSC put the private monopoly's profit margins ahead of the standard of living among customers on fixed incomes. Most of the homes in Palm Terrace Gardens and Jasmine Lakes Estates are modest, two-bedroom homes built four decades ago and marketed originally to northern retirees. The neighborhoods are now a mix of working-class families and seniors. Last fall, a resident testified that an estimated 200 of the 1,200 homes in Palm Terrace were vacant. Another testified that real estate agents said the high water and sewer costs from Aqua had scared away potential buyers of the mobile homes for sale in Zephyr Shores.
Residents scrimping during a prolonged down economy shouldn't be forced to pay new, high prices for a mediocre product. Marginal utility service warrants, at best, a marginal price increase.