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Water rate increase, code changes on council agenda

Clearwater residents would end up paying 6.6 percent more for water this year, with additional increases on tap.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000


CLEARWATER -- City Commissioners are set to give initial approval to two measures Thursday night that will affect homeowners throughout Clearwater.

One is a 6.6 percent increase in household water and sewer rates that would take effect July 1 -- the first of five annual increases planned by city officials.

The other is a series of changes designed to reduce neighborhood blight, including a partial ban on lawn parking and new restrictions on portable storage units, generally known by the brand name PODS or Portable On Demand Storage.

Commissioners expressed no strong opposition to either proposal at a Tuesday work session. Initial public hearings on both issues are scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday night at City Hall. Final public hearings will be held June 15.

The average homeowner in Clearwater uses just over 5,000 gallons of water a month, which translates to a city water and sewer bill of about $31. That bill would rise to about $33 under the proposed rate increase.

But more increases are on the way.

City administrators say a total rate increase of more than 30 percent is needed to finance repairs to the city's sewer pipes, expand the reclaimed water system, replace aging portions of the sewer system and comply with new state anti-pollution regulations.

A consultant proposes annual 6.6 percent increases through 2004.

Before next year's increase, however, the city will review its water and sewer operations, City Manager Mike Roberto said. Two studies are planned -- an analysis to determine what it will cost to run those operations and a rate study to ensure those costs are spread fairly among everyone who uses the city system.

Clearwater's current rates fit near the low end of those countywide, the city says. The average local water and sewer rates in Pinellas range from $25 to $44 a month, according to one survey. Clearwater is in the $30 range.

The other issue before the commission Thursday will involve changes to the city's Community Development Code, which was overhauled a year ago. The changes come after a six-month review.

Among the more controversial proposals is a measure to restrict PODS, large storage units some residents have likened to railroad cars with advertising.

Under the proposal, the city would allow the portable units to remain on a property for the length of an active building permit, which can be up to six months. In all other instances, the units would be allowed to stay put for up to 96 hours.

Some residents complain the provisions are too lenient. They support a limit of 48 hours approved in March by the city's Community Development Board.

The other issue is the sign on the side of the units, which the city's proposal says should be no more than 12 square feet. Some residents and commissioners still think that's too big. The company says it's willing to limit its signs to 12 by 18 inches.

The city code also would be changed to ban parking on residential lawns when street or driveway parking is available. When commissioner Ed Hooper remarked Tuesday that the limit seemed "a little restrictive," Jeff Kronschnabl, the city administrator in charge of code enforcement, said he has seen people park on lawns even when there is space in their driveways. "Some people that have the choice are not taking the responsible choice," he said.

Another controversial proposal to prohibit the renting of homes or condos in residential zones has been tabled until July as city officials continue to work out differences with local real estate agents.

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