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Soon, each flush will cost you more

City commissioners on Tuesday night approved a 30 percent sewer rate increase, the third major rate boost since 1995.

Under the new plan, a Largo homeowner's monthly sewer rate will rise from the current $15.76 to $20.45. Residents who do not live in city limits, but still depend upon Largo for sewer service, will see their monthly sewer bills increase from $19.69 to $25.55.

The increase will take effect Oct. 1.

"It's something we have to do," Mayor Bob Jackson said.

The increase is needed to pay for an expected rise in the cost to operate the system, city officials said. The system needs extensive repairs expected to cost the city tens of millions of dollars over the next five years.

Still, some customers had hoped city leaders would reconsider.

Joan Cooper, who lives outside city limits, wrote a letter to the city, calling the increase a thinly veiled attempt to force customers such as her to join the city.

"I am not necessarily against forced annexation since you might get police protection, trash service, sidewalks and street lights _ all things you don't have in the rural county enclave _ but for Largo to resort to extorting a 30 percent increase in my sewer rate is outrageous," she wrote.

Jackson stressed in a reply to Cooper that the increase is needed to pay for future infrastructure improvements. He did say that non-residents might be better served by having their property annexed into Largo because of the higher costs of some services, which will now include sewer fees.

"The difference of (living) in city and out-of-city is $60 a year," Jackson said of the annual costs for the service. "It may be cheaper, taxwise, to live in Largo."

Largo's monthly sewer fees were cheaper than any other similarly sized community in Pinellas County. They will now be higher than in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, which charge $19.57 and $17.30 a month, respectively.

The last increase in sewer fees was in 1998, when the city adopted a 20 percent increase for all users. That followed larger increases in 1995.

In other business, commissioners also approved the city's long-term vision for the central portion of Largo Central Park, a $6-million plan that includes a sculpture garden, community art wall, mountain bike trail and a pond.

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