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Business users of reclaimed water get a break

After months of wrangling over reclaimed water rates, homeowners association leaders and the county's water department appear to have reached agreement on new, lower rates that will encourage conservation without breaking the budget.

In April, Hillsborough County commissioners approved higher rates for commercial reclaimed water users to encourage conservation. But when property managers got their first water bills in June, they were aghast.

In Carrollwood Village, property manager Dan Ruskiewicz saw increases of 300 to 500 percent among the development's three villages. In Northdale, the water bill rose from $163 to almost $700 for the same amount of irrigation water used. Other neighborhoods bearing the brunt of the increased rates included Van Dyke Farms and Lake Carlton Arms apartments.

County water officials had argued that conservation was necessary so that new clients could be added, thus reducing the drain on potable water.

But at a rate workshop Wednesday, Carrollwood Village HOA director John Miley argued that his neighborhood was already going easy on the reclaimed tap.

"This whole program of restructuring reclaimed water rates was premised on the notion that we need to conserve, and we agree with that," Miley said. "But there's an implication there that we're not already doing that. The question was, well maybe we're using too much water? And the whole damned thing rolled along based on a faulty premise."

Miley ran the numbers for Carrollwood Village for the past year and found that the development used only 55 percent of what water officials agree is "reasonable" for the acreage in that community.

"So I'm saying we've been acting as good stewards of this resource," Miley said. "To penalize us by raising the rates is not only unfair, it's bloody well counterproductive."

After meeting with community leaders, water department director Mike McWeeny and his staff began reworking the numbers.

Commercial clients now pay 25 cents per 1,000 gallons for the first 5,000 gallons; 40 cents per 1,000 gallons for the next 10,000 gallons; and 55 cents per 1,000 gallons beyond that.

The proposed rates would have those same clients pay 10 cents per 1,000 gallons for the first 10,000 gallons; 20 cents per 1,000 gallons for the next 10,000 gallons; and 50 cents per 1,000 gallons beyond that.

McWeeny said he was "surprised by some of the data provided to us," and that county water officials didn't fully appreciate how little reclaimed water Carrollwood Village was using while maintaining lush common areas.

The County Commission will vote on the proposed rates Dec. 4.

_ Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabesptimes.com.

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