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Commission debates, rejects new steps against water hogs

By STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


TAMPA -- County commissioners kicked around a plan to hit high-volume water users in the pocketbook Wednesday and found plenty they didn't like.

Commissioner Jim Norman predicted that more people would drill wells in already-dry northwest Hillsborough County. Others fretted about unfairly punishing large families. The plan affects so few customers, said Commission Chairwoman Pat Frank, that it amounts to window dressing.

In the end, commissioners decided to put off a decision and have staffers come back in two weeks with more options to cut back water consumption.

Water Department officials proposed doubling the cost of each drop above 15,000 gallons a month as a prod to convince the county's biggest users to cut back during drought periods.

"That (level) is where a good bit of discretionary water is used . . . basically for landscape irrigation," said Water Department Director Michael McWeeney. "To meet an immediate crisis, we need to look at traditional incentives -- or disincentives."

Questions rained down from all corners.

Commissioner Ben Wacksman raised the case of a pastor whose family of 11 includes two foster children and three adopted children. They would be penalized for using around 20,000 gallons a month, he said.

He and other commissioners asked why the county isn't banning home car washing, eliminating breaks for new landscaping and shutting off fountains, as they have in Tampa. Look at those measures before hiking water rates, they said.

The average county water customer uses about 7,500 gallons monthly, officials said, and only about 13.5 percent use more than 15,000.

Commissioner Jan Platt proposed doubling the rates only on customers using more than 30,000 a month. It would affect just 2.5 percent of county customers -- roughly 2,500 households.

That's too few to make a dent in water consumption, Frank said. Besides, she said, those people already pay a premium and aren't likely to cut back no matter what the cost.

Platt's motion lost on a 5-2 vote; only Commissioner Thomas Scott joined her.

-- Steve Huettel can be reached at (813) 226-3384, or at huettel@sptimes.com.

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