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Utility rates to increase in Hernando

Most homeowners on Hernando County's water and sewer system can expect to pay about $2.50 more a month starting in July, according to a new rate structure approved by county commissioners Tuesday. Many of the charges have not been changed since 1980, utilities manager Richard Radacky said. The new rates, approved unanimously, are needed to pay for improvements to the utility system, officials said.

The county's utility system serves about 14,000 homes and businesses, about a quarter of all those in the county.

The basic monthly water charge will increase 50 cents for homes, and the basic monthly sewer charge will increase $2 for both homes and businesses. The per-gallon cost for water and sewer, which is in addition to the basic charge, will remain unchanged for most customers.

The increase, which takes effect July 1, will boost the minimum monthly charge for nearly all homes on the system from $14.50 to $17.

The changes, which include increases in the first-time hookup fees and the fee for turning on and off service, are expected to raise annual revenues by about $550,000, according to department projections. That will allow the county to issue up to $5.5-million in bonds to pay for new wastewater treatment plants, water storage tanks and water mains, Radacky said.

For the first time, the county will start charging homeowners who use a lot of water more per gallon. The graduated rate schedule is designed to encourage people to conserve water, officials said.

The first 3,000 gallons are included in the basic monthly charge. From 3,000 to 10,000 gallons, the price will remain the same: $1 per 1,000 gallons.

More than 75 percent of the system's residential customers fall into that category.

But for 10,000 to 15,000 gallons, the cost goes up to $1.10 for every 1,000 gallons, and so on. Each 1,000 gallons above the 100,000 gallon-per-month mark will cost a homeowner $2. Sixteen customers fell into that category last year, according to department records.

The incremental rates will not apply to commercial customers, Radacky said. But commercial users already pay $1.10 per 1,000 gallons for any water they use. And businesses already are practicing conservation in order to keep their operating costs as low as possible, Radacky said.

Because of a change in the way the basic monthly charges are calculated for business, sewer costs actually will go down for most businesses, he said. But that savings will be offset in most cases by the increased water charges, Radacky said.

Some changes _ such as the higher deposits and the higher hookup fees _ will affect only new customers. But one change has the potential to affect many of the county's part-time residents.

Currently, the charge to disconnect from the system is $17.50 during business hours and $35 at other times. Many part-time residents use this service if they return north for the summer to avoid the monthly charges.

Those fees have not been changed since 1980, Radacky said. Under the plan approved Tuesday, those charges will increase to $25 and $50, respectively.