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Crystal River water, sewer rates may rise

The price of city water and sewer service could rise 22 percent or more for some water users under a proposal the City Council tentatively accepted Monday night.

A council-ordered rate study found that the water and sewer budget has been in the red for the past few years. Without a significant rate increase, the budget could lose $230,000 in the next year, according to the study.

The council on Monday also unanimously approved the hiring of Robert "Bob" Barchiesi as the new Crystal River police chief. He replaces Roger Krieger, who has served as both city manager and police chief since the council fired Terry Leary as manager last fall.

Krieger told the council that water rates have not increased since 1988 and that sewer rates last increased in 1991, at least partly to pay off the bonds to expand the city's sewer treatment plant.

The water and sewer fund has lost more than $500,000 over the past two years, money that Krieger said could have gone to the general fund.

City officials also proposed a tax increase to help the general fund. That would raise the property tax rate nearly 8 percent.

Council members were presented two proposals to balance the water and sewer budget. The first would amount to an increase of about 25 percent for the average residential utility customer; the second would raise the rate 22 percent for the average user.

The difference is a lower base rate for water usage and a provision that could encourage water conservation.

Under the second plan, which the council agreed to forward to public hearings, rates would change on both the water and the sewer portions of the utility bill.

The base charge for sewer service, now $10.04, would rise to $19.01, while the sewer charge per 1,000 gallons of water used would drop from $3 to $2.45.

The water base charge would go from $5.25 to $11.30, and the charge per 1,000 gallons would drop from $2 to $1.74. In addition, any residential customers using more than 10,000 gallons of water would see their charge per 1,000 gallons increase from $1.74 to $3.74.

About 90 percent of residential customers use less than 10,000 gallons a day, city officials said. Water customers outside the city pay an additional 25 percent surcharge on their water purchases.

Two public hearings will be set this summer over the rate increase proposals, along with several more workshops and hearings on the general fund budget before its approval in September.

In other action, the council approved an ordinance that changes the way building heights will be regulated. Instead of limiting the number of floors that can be built, the ordinance sets a total square footage for a structure based on such criteria as the size of the lot and the amount of parking needed.

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