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COUNTY VOTES TO RAISE GARBAGE RATES STEEPLY

Officials say depleted reserves made the 13.5 percent hike necessary.

Residents of unincorporated Hillsborough County will get a sharp hike in their residential garbage bills in October.

Hillsborough County commissioners voted 6-0 Tuesday to raise residential garbage rates by $23 annually to $193.60, a 13.5 percent increase. Commissioner Ken Hagan was absent.

County Solid Waste Management Department officials said the hike was necessary after 11 years of almost no increases in garbage rates. The only other increase in that time was a $4.48 annual hike tacked on in 2005.

Commercial rates also were increased at rates that vary depending on garbage type.

To keep residential charges nearly flat over the past decade, the Solid Waste department has had to nearly deplete all of its savings accounts, county officials said. And that put the county at risk of facing lawsuits from companies that insure debt payments on such things as the county's garbage incinerator expansion.

Solid Waste officials provided comparisons to the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City and Clearwater that indicated that, even with the increase, Hillsborough's residential charges are cheaper.

Some of the commissioners nevertheless expressed frustration that they were left with little choice but to increase garbage rates sharply, even though they tentatively voted to do so last year.

"What's happening now is we're all being pigeonholed into an increase," said Commissioner Brian Blair.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe countered that not increasing rates would result in bigger problems. "I think we're going to create a crisis that is unnecessary," he said.

About a half-dozen residents spoke during the public hearing. They generally expressed two themes: They said garbage service from the main three private haulers is subpar, and that they would rather be hit with minor, inflationary increases in the future rather than getting one large spike to their bills.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

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