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Sewer rates may not triple

Like a lot of people, Paul Hollifield said he came to the meeting about sewer rates in Carrollwood "with all four barrels loaded."

He went away without firing a shot.

Instead, Hollifield and most of the nearly 200 other Carrollwood residents at Wednesday night's meeting heard some encouraging news. Hillsborough County officials told them they had a plan to avoid a proposed tripling of the residents' monthly bills for sewer service.

It was a calmer scene than a meeting in December, when residents vented their anger at learning that their monthly bills, which were about $27, were to increase to more than $87 this year.

The reason for the jump was that about 1,200 Carrollwood residents who had been receiving sewer service from a private franchise, Florida Cities Water Co., were being switched to the county's utility system. Florida Cities had to close its sewage treatment plant because it didn't meet environmental standards.

But residents balked at the huge bills, which contained charges for county sewage treatment and the use of Florida Cities pipelines. County Commissioner Pam Iorio said the county had erred in signing a contract with Florida Cities that led to the higher rates, and promised to try to find a way to reduce them.

On Wednesday, she and County Administrator Fred Karl were back with a plan.

"We didn't do this right, and we're going to try to make it right in the best way we can and as quickly as we can," Karl told the group. His proposal must be approved by the County Commission next week.

Karl's proposal involves eliminating or reducing some charges the county has control over, including a fee to new customers for hooking up to the county system. Karl said the county had decided it wasn't appropriate in this case to charge the fee, which would have added $12.11 to their monthly bills.

In addition, the County Commission gets to set the rates that Florida Cities will charge for use of its sewer lines after a rate hearing later this year. Karl said his staff's recommendation will be to set certain charges lower than what Florida Cities is requesting. Karl said if necessary, the county would be willing to go to court to try to keep Florida Cities' rates at a level the county deems appropriate.

Finally, the county will re-examine its own sewer rates to see if any adjustment is warranted.

The bottom line, Karl said, was that there was a strong chance of reducing the bills to about $60 a month. That's still about $9 more than what the average county sewer customer pays, but he said he would continue looking for more ways to get the rates down.

Most residents were pleased with the reductions, but some were skeptical because Karl said he could offer no guarantees, especially because some of the issues might be decided in court.

Bob Pavlik, who oversaw a residents committee on the sewer rates, said he wanted the commission to pass a resolution guaranteeing some relief.

"Put it in writing that whoever pays the tab, the end result is .

.

. that we're going to pay whatever the rest of the county customers pay," Pavlik said.

But Iorio said she wouldn't support making a promise when the county didn't know where the money would come from.

Paul Bradtmiller, Florida Cities executive vice president and chief operating officer, had not heard Karl's proposals in detail and said the county had not yet contacted him regarding the new plan.

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