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100 utility customers pour on the questions

The first meeting about the proposed purchase of Lindrick Service also covers annexation issues.

Residents of Gulf communities in southwest Pasco had plenty of questions for those vying to provide water and sewer service.

More than 100 residents from 10 civic associations served by Lindrick Service Corp. had their first public say Monday about the proposal that the utility be purchased by the neighboring city of Port Richey. Residents pointedly questioned Lindrick representatives and officials from both New Port Richey and Port Richey. Customers were unhappy with their water and sewer service, wary of the proposed deal and curious about the possibility of annexation into New Port Richey.

The discussion was the next step in a process Port Richey started last year, when city leaders began considering the Lindrick purchase. Consultants valued the utility at $15-million last month, even though residents have long complained of smelly water, poor service and sewage in the streets. The Department of Environmental Protection ordered Lindrick's wastewater treatment plant shut down last year, saying the company polluted the environmentally sensitive Cross Bayou with poorly treated sewage.

Port Richey Mayor Eileen Ferdinand on Monday said that even though the waterfront communities were outside her city's limits, Lindrick's 2,200 customers would see improved service and lower rates if Port Richey purchased the troubled utility.

"You can see for yourself the high level of service the city provides for its customers,' Ferdinand said.

She added that because New Port Richey treats sewage from Port Richey and the Gulf communities, consolidating services would put both in a stronger position should New Port Richey decide to stop treating that sewage.

But city leaders from New Port Richey stepped to the podium to say they had no reason to pull back services, though they might have a reason to jump into the purchase negotiations if the residents said they wanted to become part of their city. Now, the waterfront community dwellers are county residents.

"For them to get the cheapest rates possible, they have to come into the fold and become a part of the city," said Tom Finn, a New Port Richey City Council member. "As long as they stay in the county and have to deal with outside corporate entities, they'll keep having their chain yanked. The only way to put an end to it is to become part of the city, where they can vote."

Residents live too far away to annex into Port Richey, and the civic associations would need to approach New Port Richey if they decided to become city residents.

The issue of annexation took center stage when panelists explained that both municipalities would have to charge customers outside city limits 25 percent more than city residents. So residents would have to pay the surcharge twice on water coming from New Port Richey.