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City balks at higher sewer rate

City commissioners this week balked at a proposed sewer rate increase that could cost the average residential customer $7.16 more a month.

They held off a vote and will instead discuss the topic at a work session next Tuesday.

Commissioners had anticipated that they would have to increase sewer revenue by 16 percent during 2007. But the new proposal would result in a 22 percent increase in revenue and cost the average single-family residential customer $1.90 more a month than the commission's staff originally projected.

Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier, who said she wouldn't support the new increase, scolded city staffers for not keeping commissioners in the loop.

"Now that we have the real facts, I have some heartburn here,'' Crozier said.

Management services director Kim Adams said a new rate study recently revealed the need to raise rates to cover a variety of projects to maintain, improve and expand the system.

Part of the increase also would go toward about $5.6-million in improvements aimed at curbing wastewater overflows. This summer, a city analysis found that about 30.5-million gallons of untreated wastewater overflowed or was discharged from Largo's sewer system during the previous five years, mainly because of heavy storms.

The city has about 16,000 single-family customers, and the average customer uses about 5,000 gallons per month.

Rate increases proposed for other residential customers, such as duplexes or apartments, would be similar to those for single-family homes. And commercial rates could increase from 6 to 19 percent.

Current single-family residential rates range from $21.55 to $28.40 a month for those who use 1,000 to 8,000 gallons of water a month. Proposed rates range from $23.53 to $37.39 for those who consume those amounts of water.

The proposal would also raise reclaimed water rates for residential customers from $10 to $10.50 a month.

Commissioner Andy Guyette opposed the reclaimed rate increase. He said the city persuaded residents to hook up to reclaimed water by selling it as a cheap and plentiful resource. Since then, watering has been limited to just two days a week.

After increasing the rates, staff members expect to keep them stable for the next few years. But after that, rates likely will go up.

In April, the city moved forward with a plan to curb wastewater overflows. The plan could cost as much as $100-million during the next decade and would cover a variety of upgrades to meet requirements set by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Residents would bear part of those expenses, but not all at once. That's because those expenditures would likely be funded through a long-term loan, Adams said.

The proposed rate increase is scheduled to come back before the City Commission in next Tuesday's work session and could come back for a vote at the Dec. 19 meeting.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

Largo sewer rates

Current: Single-family residential sewer rates range from $21.55 to $28.40 a month for those who use 1,000 to 8,000 gallons of water a month.

Proposed: From $23.53 to $37.39 a month for single-family residential customers who use 1,000 to 8,000 gallons of water a month.

Proposed revenue increase: 22 percent.

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