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County to cap sewer rate rise

It has been a frustrating two months for Carrollwood homeowners, who learned late last year that the bills they pay each month for sewer service were scheduled to shoot from $27 to $87.

But instead of simply watching their bills triple, the 1,200 sewer customers in the Carrollwood subdivision banded together to demand some relief from the county.

On Wednesday, they got it.

County commissioners approved a plan designed to bring the Carrollwood bills closer to the rates paid by other county sewer customers, even though that might mean costly litigation with the private utility franchise that oversees the Carrollwood service.

The 200 residents who packed the commission chambers said they were relieved.

"We just felt that right was on our side," said Clete Belsom, president of the Carrollwood Civic Association.

The problems started when the franchise that had been providing sewage treatment for the Carrollwood area, Florida Cities Water Co., had to shut down at the beginning of January because its plant didn't meet environmental standards.

Hillsborough County and Florida Cities agreed to switch homeowners over to the county's sewer system, but in the process added extra charges from both the county and Florida Cities that made customers' bills skyrocket.

Most people in the county pay $50.50 a month for sewer service.

After residents complained, County Administrator Fred Karl reviewed the deal and agreed to ask the commission to eliminate certain charges, including monthly installments for a $2,200 county connection fee for new customers.

The commission also agreed to fight Florida Cities in court if necessary to reduce proposed charges associated with the cleanup and dismantling of its current treatment plant, as well as the monthly rates it will charge customers for the use of its sewer lines to carry waste water to the county system.

At a meeting last week, Karl laid out his plan to residents, and told them that he thought he could bring their bills within about $9 a month of the average county customer, and that he would keep trying to find ways to lower them even further.

Residents approved the plan, and on Wednesday urged commissioners to do the same.

County Commissioner Pam Iorio, who listened to hundreds of angry residents complain about their bills at a meeting in December, commended the group for its willingness to work with the county.

"I think this shows how government can work when we identify a problem and work together to find a solution," Iorio said.

Karl's proposal passed unanimously. Commissioner Phyllis Busansky, who lives in the Carrollwood subdivision, abstained.