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County holds off on Lindrick study

Plans to evaluate Port Richey's bid to buy the utility are shelved as the city's interest cools.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- County commissioners have delayed indefinitely almost $50,000 worth of consulting contracts intended to study the city of Port Richey's proposal to buy Lindrick Service Corp.

Because Lindrick customers are county residents, Lindrick customer and County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand had proposed that the county hire consultants to review the city's contract with the utility. County administrators recommended that the county hire two consultants for almost $50,000.

But given Port Richey's council members' increasing level of discomfort with the tentative deal, in which Port Richey would buy the utility company and two additional water wells for $19.5-million, county commissioners agreed at their Tuesday morning meeting to hold off any studies until Port Richey decides whether to proceed with the deal.

Port Richey council members voted late Tuesday night to scrap the purchase.

"I don't want it on the shelf, okay? I want us to monitor it," Hildebrand said.

County Administrator John Gallagher promised Tuesday morning to keep an eye on the Port Richey's negotiations and bring back the contracts for consideration if things changed.

"If something happens I'll put it on (the agenda)," Gallagher said.

Commissioners' decision to once again delay voting on the contracts -- they already had delayed the matter from last week -- came one day after Port Richey city council members spent more than five hours going over their proposed contract to buy the utility. In the end, council members had too many questions and few answers, got frustrated and said they couldn't approve a deal by Lindrick owner Joe Borda's deadline. Borda had given city council members until Tuesday to make up their minds about the purchase; after Monday's workshop he told the Times he would check with his attorney to see if that deadline could be extended.

The utility has about 2,200 customer connections, but about 10,000 residents live in the area.

But even if Port Richey doesn't go through with its deal, county officials will meet with Lindrick customers in coming weeks to help figure out other options for resolving their complaints about the utility's rates and water quality.

One of the options the county has raised, and one which Hildebrand said she doubts will get much support, is for the county to help Gulf Harbors residents form a community development district and buy the utility themselves.

The Department of Environmental Protection has overseen about $2.9-million worth of improvements to the system, which, according to the state, was dumping poorly-treated sewage into the gulf. Lindrick's wastewater system now feeds into New Port Richey's wastewater treatment plant.

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