The state Legislature shouldn't interfere with a contractual agreement between two local governments. But that is the upshot of proposed legislation from state Sen. Mike Fasano and Rep. John Legg allowing some new homes and businesses to cherry-pick their water, sewer and storm water utility providers.
As Times staff writer Jodie Tillman reported, the local bill is inspired by the Hampton Inn & Suites on U.S. 19, north of the Port Richey city limits, but within the municipal utility's service area that is spelled out in an agreement with Pasco County.
Fasano, echoing concerns from the motel's developer and engineering team, is unhappy with the $125,000 cost to go under U.S. 19 to connect to the city's water pipes on the west side of the highway instead of joining the county's infrastructure on east side of the road. The bill, approved Tuesday by Pasco's legislative delegation, would permit future customers to join the county utility system as long as the connection is within 100 feet of Pasco's pipes.
Pasco County has with a long-range goal of redeveloping the U.S. 19 corridor. It would be logical for the city and county to add flexibility to their utility agreement to try to avoid a repeat of putting an added cost on a new business. That is a more appropriate approach for this local issue. Instead, we have a heavy-handed response from legislators that contradicts current statute.
State law allows municipal governments to extend their utility service boundaries several miles beyond their corporate limits and to charge rates 25 percent higher in those areas than what city residents and businesses pay.
Attacking the inequities on a piecemeal basis in Pasco County makes no sense unless you're only interested in trying to appease a sole constituent.
More to the point, the legislation is punitive toward Port Richey. 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, servicing that obligation. Allowing future customers to flee would be detrimental to the city, which built its system with growth in mind and to eliminate the need to purchase bulk water from New Port Richey.
Though we have been critical of many aspects of Port Richey's governing in the past, it should be free to operate its utility system without the state of Florida running roughshod over its future customer base.