Rates soar for water and sewer
The County Commission approves a 5 percent increase for water and a 21 percent hike for sewer in each of the next four years.
By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published September 14, 2005
INVERNESS - County commissioners voted to increase water and wastewater rates for Citrus utility customers Tuesday.
Water rates will increase by 5 percent each year for four years beginning in fiscal year 2006. Sewer rates will increase by 21 percent each year during the same time period.
The County Commission will examine that plan and consider adjustments again after two years.
The increases are based on a consultant's study first presented to commissioners in July.
Public Resources Management Group consultant Henry Thomas told commissioners Tuesday the rate increases are necessary to pay for planned major capital improvements to the county's system, particularly the expansion of water and wastewater treatment plants.
"It's not only what we have here today, but it's what we anticipate we're going to have," Commission Chairwoman Vicki Phillips said.
The new rates also include provisions that officials hope will encourage residents to conserve water.
"When we raise these rates, people will use less," Thomas said. "That's a goal we want to achieve."
During the public comment period, 10 people came to the podium and criticized the plan, saying it unfairly burdened existing users to pay for growth.
"I just can't believe you can increase rates to that extent," said Edward Renfro, president of the Fox Hollow Village Property Owners Association. "It's extremely unfair and unreasonable."
After nearly two hours of discussion, commissioners begrudgingly - but unanimously - voted to approve the plan.
"I knew that as time goes on we were going to get to a point where it was going to be a heavy hit, and we're there," Phillips said.
She said if there was any alternative, commissioners would gladly consider it.
"I'm not sure this is the fairest way to grow," Commissioner Joyce Valentino said. "Nobody's giving me any other options."
Citrus County serves about 6,700 water customers and nearly 4,000 sewer customers. In five years, those numbers will double, according to projections.
But several commissioners said Tuesday that the number was not growing quickly enough.
"We need to be more aggressive about expanding our customer base," Commissioner Jim Fowler said.
Phillips said the only solution would be for the county to acquire the systems currently managed by the Florida Governmental Utility Authority.
--Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-7309.
[Last modified September 14, 2005, 02:15:34]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]