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A FLUSH MAY COST YOU MORE

The city is expected to raise sewer rates 40 percent over three years.

Get ready to dig a little deeper to pay your sewer bills.

The City Council on Thursday will consider increasing wastewater rates by 40 percent over the next three years. The boost means the average residential sewer charge would go from $33.60 a month to $46.50 in 2012.

Since 2004, sewer rates have increased 20 percent, and the council likely will agree to another rate boost.

Council Chairman Tom Scott said the tough economic times make it difficult to raise fees. But city finance director Bonnie Wise and wastewater director Ralph Metcalf have told council members the increase is essential to make vital repairs to the city's aging sewer system.

"They told me we don't have a choice," Scott said. "They're not giving us options. What can you say?"

Money generated by the rate increase will be used to repair segments of the city's 1,895 miles of sewer pipes, some of which are nearly 100 years old.

"We are not doing any expansion," Metcalf said. "We are just fixing things."

For years, the sewer department has been spending more money than it has taken in, Metcalf said.

Last weekend, the city closed a segment of busy West Shore Boulevard to make a $40,000 repair to cracked, 50-year-old sewer pipes that were deteriorating the road above them.

The city also recently spent $1 million to replace a 30-year-old pipe at the wastewater treatment near the Port of Tampa. And crews are finishing up a $23 million project to replace an aging line in Sulphur Springs that burst in 2004, sending 21 million gallons of wastewater into the Hillsborough River.

The plan to gradually increase rates means the average residential sewer charge would go up by about $4.90 a month this year and $12.90 by 2012. Average monthly utility bills would increase by about $7.53 this year when combined with a previously approved five-year plan for increasing water rates.

The plan also would increase a surcharge on customers outside the city who use Tampa's sewer system from 18 percent to 25 percent.

If approved, the rate increase would take effect Oct. 1.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

By the numbers

$33.60 Current average monthly residential sewer bill.

$38.50 Average 2010 monthly residential sewer bill at new rate.

$46.50 Average 2012 monthly residential sewer bill at new rate.

$73.47 Current average residential utility bill (sewer, water and garbage).

$81 Average 2010 monthly residential utility bill in 2010 with new sewer and water rates.

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