TAMPA — The price of a gallon of tap water is going up in Hillsborough County.
And it will keep going up for each of the next four years.
Annual 4 percent rate increases are intended to improve and expand the county’s water utility system. Hillsborough Commissioners approved the four-year rate increases by a 5-1 vote Wednesday. Commissioner Ken Hagan, who didn’t say anything during the debate, dissented and Commissioner Stacy White didn’t vote.
A customer using 6,000 gallons of water monthly currently pays $85.04. That will increase to $89.14 on Oct. 1, and go up annually each of the following three years. On Oct. 1, 2024, that same usage will cost nearly $20 more than it does now at $103.51. The figures also include annual adjustments tied to the consumer price index.
Typically, however, customers use more than 6,000 gallons each month. In 2019, a residential customer used an average of 7,200 gallons of water monthly. In 2020, monthly water use jumped to 8,200 gallons, an increase attributed to the pandemic’s work-from-home environment and irrigation of new construction landscaping in the booming south county.
To accompany the rate increase, the county is designing a new hardship program that will reduce bills by $5 per month for customers meeting income guidelines. The county offers a similar program for storm water assessments.
The approved increases in water and sewer rates follow similar jumps each of the past two years and the commission’s decision in 2020 to increase south county utility impact fees 65 percent, to nearly $5,900 per new single-family home. At the same time, the commission also reinstituted an $1,822 per-home utility reservation fee that had been zeroed out in 2014.
Those impact fee increases are financing ongoing short-term fixes in the south county, where rapid growth has meant more water use, low pressure during periods of high demand and county-imposed irrigation restrictions. Over the next three years, the county is adding a new transmission pipe, a storage tank capable of holding 3 million gallons of water, new pumps and a booster station to aid the flow of water traveling from the treatment plant in Lithia to south county.
The just-approved rate increase is aimed at long-term improvements through 2028 that include a new pump station and storage on 330 acres the county is buying from Ag-Mart, a new treatment plant, a new Tampa Bay Water wellfield, a booster station and new supply pipelines..
The new revenue also will start a new annual plan to connect 500 homes and businesses on septic to the county’s central sewer system. There are 26,000 septic tank sites inside the county’s urban service boundary. The rate increase also will finance replacing 1,500 low-pressure utility systems in the Ruskin and Wimauma areas that are prone to breakdowns during power outages.
The public hearing drew just one speaker, Shanida DeGracia, a Town ‘N’ Country homeowner, who lauded the septic-to-sewer program, calling it good for the environment and residents’ quality of life
“We cannot hope to rebuild good communities on top of septic and well water systems in the urban area,” agreed Commission Chair Pat Kemp.
The county’s utility had just less than 198,000 water and sewer service accounts in the 2020 fiscal year. The customer base is projected to grow to more than 222,000 accounts by 2025. The utility currently serves more than 665,000, people, more than two-thirds of whom are in the county’s south-central system south of the city of Tampa.