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Pasco to buy Lindrick utility system serving several coastal communities

The purchase is possible through $24 million in federal funding and a state allocation.
The purchase will save Lindrick customers 41.7 percent on their utility bills if they use 4,000 gallons of water per month.
The purchase will save Lindrick customers 41.7 percent on their utility bills if they use 4,000 gallons of water per month. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 28|Updated Jan. 28

NEW PORT RICHEY — More than 3,000 utility customers in Gulf Harbors, Gulf Landings and several other West Pasco communities will likely soon be getting a break on their water and wastewater bills after the Pasco County Commission this week approved the $24 million purchase of the Lindrick utility system.

The system was one of two troubled utilities Pasco had decided to purchase from the Florida Governmental Utilities Authority several years ago. In 2020, the county purchased the other system, known as the Aqua utility system, for just less than $30 million.

As the current owner of the system, the authority must also determine that the sale of the Lindrick utility to the county is in the public interest before the county can complete its purchase this summer. That vote is expected next month.

The Lindrick utility has had ongoing issues for years and needs millions of dollars in repairs, but commissioners decided that the benefits of making the purchase outweighed the drawbacks and made the formal determination that the purchase was in the county’s interest.

One plus for the county, officials said, is that by consolidating small systems like Lindrick and Aqua, the county is better able to spread operating and upkeep costs over a larger customer base. A countywide utility rate increase was approved several years ago to make such acquisitions possible. The increase was used for the Aqua purchase but was not needed for the Lindrick purchase because other funding became available.

Lindrick and Aqua are two of several utility systems originally built with specific housing projects in Pasco County. The Florida Government Utility Authority purchased numerous similar utility companies across the state. The high cost of repairs to the aging systems and customer service issues have plagued the Pasco acquisitions and those elsewhere.

In a report to the commission, Justin Grant, business and fiscal administration director for Pasco County utilities, explained that the Lindrick purchase wasn’t going to require seeking a loan. The county will pay $24 million dollars from money Pasco received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act as part of the pandemic response. In addition, the county also received a legislative allocation of $3.8 million last year for sewer and water quality system work for the Lindrick utility, work that is already underway.

The system is also in compliance with state environmental regulations and Pasco utilities operation has the expertise to take over and run the system, Grant said.

The purchase will save Lindrick customers 41.7 percent on their utility bills if they use 4,000 gallons of water per month, according to Grant’s report. Lindrick serves 3,200 water and 2,700 wastewater customers.

Several residents from the area who had long been pushing for the county to purchase the utility, spoke during the hearing.

A dozen years ago, residents tried to convince Pasco officials to buy the system outright, but Florida Governmental Utilities bought it instead, said Gulf Harbors resident Skip Geiger. What followed was years of water system problems, leaking sewage and poor customer service, he said.

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“The time has come. We need each of you commissioners to vote yes today,” Geiger said, adding that not only would that vote mean lower rates but also protection of the coastal area.

Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey, a resident of Gulf Harbors, said that water quality issues were a regular problem there and it was time to give rate relief and a working utility to the community after “years and years of Band-Aid fixes” to the system.

Another Gulf Harbors resident, Mitch Kobernick, said he understood why the Aqua utility had to be bought first because of its ongoing water quality issues, but “now it’s our turn.”

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