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St. Petersburg utility rates could increase this year

The average resident’s monthly bill could go up $7.51.
A drilling tower was used to drill into a well that will reach an underground cave with a storage capacity of 15 million gallons at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility. The storage tank behind it holds 10 million gallons. These sewage improvements were made in 2017 as part of the city's state-mandated $326 million program to repair and upgrade its sewage system. But residents could face more rate increases to pay for it all. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
A drilling tower was used to drill into a well that will reach an underground cave with a storage capacity of 15 million gallons at the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility. The storage tank behind it holds 10 million gallons. These sewage improvements were made in 2017 as part of the city's state-mandated $326 million program to repair and upgrade its sewage system. But residents could face more rate increases to pay for it all. [LARA CERRI | Times]
Published Jun. 18|Updated Jun. 20

ST. PETERSBURG — Residents could see their public utility bills go up later this year, if rates proposed to a City Council committee this week hold.

The average residential monthly bill would see a $7.51 hike, city officials said on Thursday. The proposed rates still have to go through a first reading on Aug. 18 and a public hearing on Sept. 8.

If passed, the rates would go into effect on Oct. 1.

The bill for an average residential utility customer, who uses 4,000 gallons of water a month, could go from $132.31 to $139.82 for the majority of residents who don’t have reclaimed water. That includes their assessments for sewer, stormwater and curbside garbage pickup.

Residents’ increased bills will help the city pay for investments in its water and sewage treatment and capacity. Raising more cash now through utility fees also will lower St. Petersburg’s utility debt in the long run, staff said.

St. Petersburg pledged to spend $326 million to fix its ailing sewage system, which discharged up to 1 billion gallons into neighborhoods and surrounding waterways during storms in 2015-16. Another project will replace the pipes in the city’s drinking water system.

The city has taken on a significant amount of debt to pay for these repairs. Before 2019, St. Petersburg borrowed more than 90% of its funding for projects, staff said.

But raising utility fees would increase the amount of cash the city uses to pay for water and sewer projects. In the next fiscal year, the city anticipates reaching its goal of a 50/50 split between cash and debt funding. Doing so would result in $590 million in interest savings in the next 10 years, according to city staff.

Proposed rates include a 5% increase in water and wastewater rates, 15% for stormwater and 3.75% for garbage pickup and disposal. Reclaimed water rates would remain the same.

Even more rate increases are projected in the next decade. By 2032, an average single family’s water and wastewater bill could go up to $160.54, garbage pickup to $49.76, and stormwater to $25.34, according to data shared by city staff.

Staff pointed to rising interest and inflation rates as drivers in discussions about future utility costs.

“This is about sharing that burden throughout generations,” council member Copley Gerdes said after city staff recommended the increased fees to committee members.

The recommended utility fee changes would also come after two years of smaller rate increases during the pandemic, staff said.

“At the end of the day, our customers do want our systems to work properly, and we hear lots of complaints about our infrastructure. Well, this is how it gets paid,” council member Lisset Hanewicz said.

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