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Pasco County water customers face higher bills to subsidize utility purchases

Commissioners approve a plan to increase water and sewer rates to finance acquisition of two smaller systems. ustomers there had complained of exorbitant prices for water.
 
Pasco County approved plans to acquire the Lindrick and the Pasco Aqua utility systems beginning in 2020.  A December 2017 report said the Lindrick system needed more than $12 million worth of repairs including demolition of this lift station
Pasco County approved plans to acquire the Lindrick and the Pasco Aqua utility systems beginning in 2020. A December 2017 report said the Lindrick system needed more than $12 million worth of repairs including demolition of this lift station
Published Feb. 19, 2019

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County utility customers will pay higher water and sewer bills in the future so residents in Gulf Harbors and other neighborhoods can pay less, Pasco commissioners agreed this week.

The countywide subsidy is a key part Pasco's plans to acquire the former Lindrick and Pasco Aqua utility systems from the Florida Government Utility Authority. Customers of both systems have complained about exorbitant rates, some of which are nearly double the costs paid by county utility customers.

"Everybody in the county should pay the same rate,'' said Mitchell Kobernick of Gulf Harbors.. "This water is a basic fundamental service the county provides, and there is no reason for there to be a tiered rate.''

Ten other speakers echoed his sentiments in front of a standing-room-only audience Tuesday morning in the West Pasco Government Center.

Under the plan, details of which still must be finalized, the county would purchase the Pasco Aqua system in 2020 and acquire Lindrick a year later. Each purchase would carry a year-long rate increase of up to 2 percent for the county's 110,000 water and sewer customers, though commissioners said they would seek state dollars to reduce the cost.

A 2 percent rate increase would raise the current monthly bill for a household using 6,000 gallons of water from $73.18 to $76.18. But the Lindrick customers could see a drop of approximately $40 a month once they join the county system.

The year-long rate hikes for each purchase would be on top of previously approved county rate increases which are set to go up 1.5 percent for water and 3.5 percent for sewer service in each of the next three years.

Commissioners approved the countywide subsidy capped at 2 percent after rejecting their staff's recommendation for a 1 percent across-the-board rate increase and a 10-year surcharge on just the Lindrick and Pasco Aqua customers.

Lindrick, serving Gulf Harbors and nearby waterfront communities in west Pasco, has 3,100 water customers. Wastewater from the 2,600 sewer customers is treated by the city of New Port Richey. A 2017 study showed that customers there paid more than $101 a month for 4,000 gallons of water compared to nearby county customers who paid less than $56.

Pasco Aqua has 3,300 water and 3,100 sewer customers spread among Jasmine Lakes and Palm Terrace in west Pasco and in Zephyr Shores outside the city of Zephyrhills.

The purchase price of each utility amounts to their outstanding debts, which total $18.5 million for Pasco Aqua and $24.6 million for Lindrick, said Steve Spratt, general manager of the Florida Government Utility Authority.

Pasco joined the utility cooperative in 2008 as a precursor to acquiring troubled private utilities. For years, Lindrick customers tolerated low pressure, frequent contamination concerns and what they called poor customer service. The authority purchased Lindrick in 2010 and Pasco Aqua in 2012. Later, customer complaints turned to the high pricing, which triggered the county's purchase plans. The complaints continued Tuesday.

"I'm ready,'' said Gigi Evans, whose husband works in construction, "to have one of my husband's port-a-potties put outside my house so I don't have to pay so much for water.''

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.