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Final hearing on water and sewer rates set for May 19
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CLEARWATER – The second and final public hearing on new rates for water, sewer and reclaimed water is scheduled for Tuesday, May 19, 6 p.m., in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

According to the staff report, Burton and Associations, the county’s rate consultant, recommends a four-year schedule of increases based on projected revenue requirements for water, sewer and reclaimed water systems.

The rate for retail and wholesale water customers is proposed to increase 1.75 percent a year for volumetric and base rates. The consultant says a bigger revenue stream is needed to pay for improvements and upgrades to the water system infrastructure. Additional money also is needed to maintain adequate cash flow, reserves and the cost of purchasing water from Tampa Bay Water.

At the first public hearing May 5, Commissioner Ken Welch, who is a member of the Tampa Bay Water board, questioned the increase in cost from Tampa Bay Water since that agency is not raising its rates next year. Linda Benoit, manager of the Office of Management and Budget, explained that an increase is “built-in” to Burton’s projections to include the annual “true-up” of costs. She said the budget is based on estimated amounts.

The proposed new rates also include a 1 percent per year hike for retail and wholesale sewer customers for volumetric and base rates. The consultant projects that more money will be needed to maintain adequate debt service, cash flow, reserves, as well as to pay for improvements and upgrade to the South Cross and William E. Dunn Water Reclamation facilities.

The proposed increase for reclaimed water is $1 a year with a user fee increase of 0.05 per year per 1,000-gallon volume. Rates for wholesale customers are proposed to increase 5 percent. Increases in reclaimed water rates will pay for ongoing costs for renewal and replacement of systems, as well as increased operating and maintenance costs.

Actual costs to retail customers

If the proposed rates are approved, retail water customers who now pay a $4.78 volumetric rate per 1,000 gallons will pay $4.86 in 2016, $4.95 in 2017, $5.04 in 2018 and $5.13 in 2019. Base rate charges will change from the $6.36 a month retail customers pay now to $6.46 in 2016, $6.57 in 2017, $6.68 in 2018, and $6.80 in 2019.

The increased rates are projected to generate an additional $1.178 million in revenue in 2016, $1.203 million in 2017, $1.228 in 2018 and $1.254 in 2019.

Retail sewer customers would receive no increases in 2016. But the current rate of $4.84 per 1,000 gallons would increase to $4.89 in 2017, $4.94 in 2018 and $4.00 in 2019. The base rate would go from $13.26 to $13.39 in 2017, $13.52 in 2018 and $13.66 in 2019.

The increase is projected to generate an additional $575,147 in 2017, $582,934 in 2018, and $590,807 in 2019.

Reclaimed water customers would begin paying $1 a month more starting in 2016 and would be paying $22 by 2019. The metered service rate at 96 cents would increase to $1.01 in 2016, $1.06 in 2017, $1.11 in 2018 and $1.16 in 2019.

Customers who have un-metered reclaimed water service also would begin paying $1 more in 2016, going from $12 to $16 by 2019. Their rate per 1,000 gallons would increase each year, starting at $0.10 up to $0.121 in 2019.

The increases are projected to bring in an additional $243,810 in 2016, $243,811 in 2017, $243,810 in 2018 and $243,812 in 2018.

Marcus Harrison from Palm Harbor was the only member of the public to speak at the first public hearing. Harrison questioned the rate increases, saying billing issues don’t reflect charges. He said the reclaimed water system was unfunded with rates going up significantly. He also questioned some of the billing fees.
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