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Water utility switch worries some users

Published Sep. 9, 2005

Residents of a Land O'Lakes subdivision are concerned about rate increases and a potential lack of reclaimed water.

About 300 property owners in the Oak Grove subdivision of Land O'Lakes could pay as much as 20 percent more for their drinking water.

The rate increase comes as Pasco County's utilities department divests itself of the subdivision and turns over water service to its private competitor, Mad Hatter Utilities.

Mad Hatter also will take over water service for another customer south of State Road 54 previously served by the county, Denham Oaks Elementary School.

At the request of the elementary school and Oak Grove developer Sunfield Homes, Pasco has provided water to those customers for years.

Mad Hatter, a private Land O'Lakes utility that serves neighborhoods south of SR 54, sued. A federal court ruled that Oak Grove and the elementary school were part of Mad Hatter's service territory. Pasco has until May 6 to transfer service to Mad Hatter.

For homeowners using 5,000 gallons, the switch will mean a rate hike. Pasco charges $39.17 for 5,000 gallons, compared to $47.12 charged by Mad Hatter.

As water use increases, the rate differences are less stark: Mad Hatter charges $66.47 for 10,000 gallons, versus $62.53 for Pasco.

As county commissioners mulled the court-ordered divestiture Tuesday, several Oak Grove neighbors openly worried about the transfer. The neighborhood has about 300 homes but is expected to grow to 800.

Tom Sabo, who lives on Laurel Ridge Drive, said neighbors worry not so much about Mad Hatter's water quality as the company's refusal so far to provide reclaimed water for lawn irrigation. The county has provided reclaimed water for a flat monthly rate of $6.34

On the advice of a county attorney, commissioners held off on okaying the transfer until courts resolve Sunfield Homes' independent litigation to stop Mad Hatter from taking over.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she hopes the issue wraps up soon. The case has been in the courts for more than five years, litigation Mulieri compared to pouring money down a black hole.