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Annexation may not mean cheaper water

If Pebble Creek is annexed by Tampa the utility might not necessarily change the current prices.

By MICHAEL SANDLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


PEBBLE CREEK -- The good news for Pebble Creek is that Tampa officials say joining the city could mean a lower price for water. But the bad news is that the lower price may never reach residents.

Tampa may supply the water to the families in the unincorporated New Tampa area, but Pebble Creek Utilities, Inc., a private utility company, owns the pipes and bills residents.

A representative from the franchise said annexation would not necessarily change current prices.

"It wouldn't guarantee it," said Patrick Flynn, a spokesman for Pebble Creek Utilities, Inc. "We are not in the market to sell our facilities in Pebble Creek. It would be speculative to (say) what the rates would be subsequent to the city of Tampa annexing the neighborhood."

Pebble Creek is one of two unincorporated New Tampa communities at the center of a bidding war between Tampa and Hillsborough County. The two communities have tripled in population in the past decade to about 6,900 residents.

Pebble Creek and Cross Creek could become part of Tampa voluntarily by a unanimous vote of residents, or involuntarily by a majority vote.

If annexed, the city would charge residents in Pebble Creek and Cross Creek the retail rate for water. City residents pay $1.04 per unit, or 748 gallons, for the first 9,724 gallons. After that, residents pay a conservation rate of $1.68 per subsequent units.

The city sells water to Pebble Creek Utility at $1.30 per unit and a conservation rate of $2.10 per unit.

Cross Creek residents get their water at the same rates, but directly from the city without going through a private utility.

David Tippon, director of Tampa's water department, said Pebble Creek residents would not necessarily see the reduction.

"They could," he said. "It would be a windfall for the franchise."

Adding Pebble Creek to Tampa would also be a windfall for the city.

In addition to the two established communities, both local governments are negotiating with the developer of Live Oak, a 1,250-acre property to the north. St. Lucie Development Corp. has submitted plans for up to 1,599 homes with the county, but Ron Rotella, the mayor's consultant on development, has also been negotiating with them.

Three Pebble Creek residents met with Rotella in January to express interest in joining the city. Since then, city officials have been busy analyzing utility and tax bills submitted by a select group of residents from Pebble Creek and Cross Creek.

The county, which also is analyzing those bills, said residents could expect to pay as much as $250 more to live in the city, and that does not include Tampa's 7 percent tax on intrastate long-distance calls.

Eric Johnson, Hillsborough's budget director, said residents should be watchful of promises for lower water bills.

"People in Pebble Creek don't have as much of a guarantee in the relief on their bill because it is up to the utility to determine how much savings they will pass along, and Tampa cannot reduce the other costs of the utility," he said. "There is a middle man and you do not know how much of that the middle man will pass along."

-- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or sandler@sptimes.com.

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