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Pasco commission approves $29.3 million purchase of Aqua Utility System

The county expands its utility system by 3,600 water customers.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco county commissioners approved a $29.3 million bond issue Monday that will allow the county to acquire the Pasco Aqua Utility System bringing it under the county’s water and sewer system.

The move will mean customers of the old Aqua system should see breaks in their utility bills, although other county utility users are expected to see slight increases in what they pay for their water and sewer services to offset the purchase.

County officials had been examining the acquisition since February 2019 with commissioners voting to move forward with purchasing Aqua from the Florida Government Utility Agency in December. The authority had bought the properties from Aqua Utilities several years ago to try to stem customer complaints about the quality and cost of the service.

The county staff sought proposals, ultimately settling on BB&T Company, now Truist Bank, to provide the loan.

The decision will allow the county to purchase the utility system, serving 3,600 water and 3,100 sewer customers in Jasmine Lakes and Palm Terrace in west Pasco and Zephyr Shores near Zephyrhills.

With the county assuming control of the property, current Aqua customers should see a significant drop in their monthly water bills, according to previous estimates. But the county’s existing 120,000 customers will see an increase of 2 percent to help finance the acquisition.

Commissioners on Monday also voted to contract with U.S. Water Services Corporation for $154,000 for the continued operation of water and wastewater facilities and to provide customer service and billing through 2022. According to the memo to the commission, the decision to stick with the company was designed “to ensure a smooth transition.‘'

The county has also previously agreed to move forward with the purchase of another utility acquired by the Florida Government Utility Authority, which is expected in the future. The Lindrick system has 3,100 water customers, and wastewater from the 2,600 sewer customers is treated by the city of New Port Richey. A 2017 study showed that customers there paid significantly more than nearby county utility customers.

Separate from the cost of buying the utilities, the County Commission also previously agreed to a four-year rate increase of approximately 2 percent annually to maintain the county system. Customers are now nearing the end of the third year of that rate increase and the price of water and sewer service will go up again Oct. 1, 2020.