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Question the candidates

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001

As the March 27 general election approaches, the Times will ask questions designed to help voters learn where the mayoral candidates stand on important issues facing the city. Candidates are asked to keep their responses to fewer than 300 words. Answers are edited only if they exceed that length.

Today's question:

Do you agree with the current administration's long-range plans for raising water and sewer rates? If not, how would you propose paying for the increased cost of water and repairs to the city's system?

Rick Baker

St. Petersburg is facing two challenges. Our water supply is becoming increasingly more expensive as Tampa Bay Water, our region's water supplier, invests money in the development of new sources of drinking water for distribution to the region's partners. Also, after many years of neglect, our sewer system is in a state of great disrepair requiring a major investment in repair and maintenance.

Based on the information received from the city, the administration's long-range plan for increasing rates to pay for these growing expenses has been the only viable solution presented.

However, as in the case of all city departments, once in office I will work to make sure that we have explored all legitimate alternatives which might reduce the cost increases being passed along, and that we are operating as efficiently as possible and to raise rates only when absolutely necessary to provide quality services for our citizens.

Kathleen Ford

City Council approved the water and sewer rates recommended in the Retail and Wholesale Water Rate study for Fiscal Year 2001. I voted for the most recent sewer and water rate increases. The increased rates are necessary to replace and repair old wastewater plants and the aging sewer collection system. An additional water rate increase was necessary to pay for the higher wholesale cost of the city's purchase of water from the Tampa Bay Water Authority (TBWA). This water rate increase was necessary to pay for TBWA's acceleration of new water projects.

After dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage into Boca Ciega Bay the city agreed (in its Consent Order with the Department of Environmental Protection) to fund a study of the sewer system. The estimated cost of all necessary improvements is approximately $100-million. Current rate increases cover the debt service for those improvements.

The city has not performed a similar study of the water distribution system. The current program is replacing 6 miles of pipe per year of a system that is about 1,468 miles long and about 50 years old. At that rate, the city will replace the system in 246 years! We need a comprehensive program to repair that aging system, too. Those improvements can be bonded and paid for over time as we are doing with the sewer system.

Also, the EPA has new standards for water treatment plants. The city can anticipate that the new system of disinfection will cost more. Estimates for plant changes range from a half-million dollars to $60-million.

For customers who have a difficult time paying or question their bills, the city has a committee that reviews concerns and a program of financial assistance for some customers.

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