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Tarpon looks at new rates for water

For the first time in six years, the city is considering changes in water and sewer rates.

City Manager Ellen Posivach said water rates might drop while sewer rates might have to go up to raise money needed for improvements in the city's increasingly frail infrastructure and to continue with a long-standing effort to put sewers throughout the city.

"It's really a game of catch-up," Posivach said Friday.

A workshop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday so Burton and Associates, a Jacksonville-based firm that is conducting the study, can present its report.

Public input will be allowed at other meetings, including the July 31 and Aug. 7, 21 and 28 City Commission meetings. New rates will not be adopted until public comment is heard at those meetings and a formal public hearing is scheduled on the issue.

Currently, residents who use 4,000 gallons of water a month or less are charged $12.64, and $3.16 for every 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons. For every 1,000 gallons beyond 15,000, residents are charged $3.26.

The sewer rate is $11.24 for the first 4,000 gallons, then an additional $2.81 for each 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons. The rate beyond 15,000 gallons is an additional $2.91 per 1,000 gallons.

Late last week, city officials said they had few details about what the proposed rates would be.

"I don't have any firm figures," Posivach said. "It's been a totally independent study."

She said some increases may be necessary to keep up with certain needs in the city, particularly the need for sewers in areas that are still using septic tanks. The consultants are examining the history of rates in Tarpon Springs before making their determination, she said.

Commissioner Karen Brayboy said she has not seen the study, but she says she hopes it incorporates the concerns of residents who are served by master water meters, which are used in several large communities throughout Tarpon Springs. At previous meetings, several residents from large subdivisions said they were concerned their rates may go up inordinately higher than those of other consumers.

"I think it is imperative on us to look at this from their perspective," Brayboy said.

She said it is unfortunate that the city's re-examination of rates comes during a slowing economy.

"It's not a terribly timely move on our part," she said. "But in fairness to the city, it has been years since this has been done."

Some residents already have contacted the city about possible rate increases.

"If you must have a rate hike, I hope it will be larger businesses," Barbara Incorvaia wrote in a letter to Mayor Frank DiDonato. "I am very opposed to rate hikes for larger amounts of water."

Most other comments focused on the issue of master meters, which are used to distribute water to residents in housing developments such as the Woods at Anderson Park.

Early versions of proposed rate changes suggested that rates for master meters could increase much more than those for individual meters, said Joseph La Rocca, president of the Woods at Anderson Park Homeowners Association.

"We have no problem with a rate increase, as long as it's fair and equitable for all concerned," he said.

_ Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182.

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