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    Water rates ready to climb

    What might the increase in Tarpon water and sewer rates be? It depends on whether a revenue bond issue is part of the plan. Read on for options.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 15, 2002


    TARPON SPRINGS -- A consultant is recommending that city water and sewer rates go up in two phases, starting with an across-the-board increase in October.

    The numbers vary widely, depending on which approach city officials decide to take. The increase in the 2003 fiscal year could be as little as 4.5 percent or as much as 32 percent.

    "No decisions have been made; no recommendations have been cast in concrete," City Manager Ellen Posivach said.

    The City Commission will vote on the issue at meetings that have not yet been scheduled.

    If passed, it will be the first time the city has raised water and sewer rates in more than six years.

    The changes are necessary to keep up with inflation; keep bond holders happy; and pay for needed water and sewer improvements, such as expanding reclaimed water service, providing sewer service around Lake Tarpon and in other areas, and continuing odor-control efforts at the wastewater treatment plant, city officials said.

    Consultant Mike Burton suggested that the city make the across-the-board increases first, then change the rate structure in the next year or so.

    "You need to go one step at a time," Burton said.

    A change in rate structure would mean that customers would pay a certain amount per 1,000 gallons, with rate increases every 5,000 gallons or so. They also would pay a customer charge and a service charge.

    Currently, residents who use up to 4,000 gallons of water a month are charged $12.64. They pay $3.16 for every additional 1,000 gallons up to 15,000 gallons. For every 1,000 gallons beyond 15,000, residents are charged $3.26.

    Sewer rates are $11.24 per month, plus $2.81 per 1,000 gallons between 5,000 and 15,000 gallons and $2.91 per 1,000 gallons beyond that.

    The city also should put a revenue bond issue on the November ballot that would pay for some water and sewer projects, Burton said. If the bond issue passed, rates would still need to go up but not as much as they would without the bond issue, he said.

    All the numbers the consultant came up with will increase if the county approves a proposed 10 percent increase in the amount it charges cities to buy its water. If county commissioners pass the increase, the numbers below would be higher.

    Without that adjustment, there are six possible rate increases being proposed. Three show the rates if the revenue bond issue passes, and three show the changes if the revenue bond is not offered to voters or goes on the ballot and fails.

    If voters pass the bond issue, rates could be raised to meet the city's changing needs each year for five years. In 2003, rates would go up by 4.56 percent, followed by 9.55 percent in 2004, 4.26 percent in 2005, 4.6 percent in 2006 and 5.87 percent in 2007.

    With the passage of the bond issue, level rate increases of 6 percent each year could be enacted during the next five years.

    With the passage of the bond issue, rates could be increased more in 2003 and by smaller amounts the following years. The increase in 2003 would be 17.5 percent, then 2.75 percent each of the next four years.

    Without the passage of the bond issue, rates would have to go up by 32.6 percent in 2003 to meet immediate needs, then 15 percent in 2004, 1.6 percent in 2005, no increase in 2006 and 7.15 percent in 2007.

    Without the passage of the bond issue, level increases would be 16.25 percent a year for four years.

    Without the bond issue, the plan with higher increases in the first two years would mean a 24 percent increase in 2003 and 2004, then 2.75 percent in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

    Burton presented the rate options during a community meeting Monday night. He and city officials said the rate increases would not be as high or wouldn't be needed at all if proposed rate increases had gone into effect after a 1994 study. Rates were increased for the last time in 1995, but not as much as the 1994 study recommended.

    Several residents of condominium and mobile home communities attended the meeting to make the case that each home served by a master meter should not have to pay a separate service charge. They want a single charge for service to be applied to each community.

    "On behalf of the people who I represent, we're looking for a level playing field," said Joseph LaRocca, the president of the Woods at Anderson Park Homeowners Association. "I think you can probably come up with a suitable plan that we can swallow."

    -- Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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