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Belleair resident Robert Allen holds a glass of water that will cost him double what he pays now if the city approves a new rate structure on Sept. 18.
BELLEAIR – Faced with a $300,000 deficit in operating its water system every year, the authorities in Belleair decided it was time to stop the bleeding. As a result residents may face a major increase in their water bills this fall.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to a new rate structure for water in their community. The plan was presented by Finance Director J.P. Murphy, who said it will more fairly reflect the actual cost of the water.
Final approval will come with the second reading of the rate structure on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
“More than 80 percent of our residents were paying less for 1,000 gallons of water than it cost to deliver,” he said. “This new structure will bring it into line.”
Up until now residents have been paying a monthly rate of $10.02 and received 4,500 gallons of water for that price.
Under the new plan all residents will pay $12.37 a month as a base rate. They don’t get any water for that cost. That gets them the privilege of receiving water. Actual water charges will be on top of that.
Residents who use 4,000 gallons or less a month, will pay $1.86 per thousand gallons. The town has determined that amount is what is required for daily human use; showering, washing dishes and clothes, cleaning teeth, toilet, etc.
The next tier, from 4,000 to 25,000 gallons the cost jumps to $6.21 per thousand gallons. That should provide for a limited amount of irrigation, water softener, pool requirements and water for a fairly large home.
The final tier is where the price jumps for $7.45 per thousand gallons and is for residents who use more than 25,000 gallons.
“If you are using that much you are definitely using it to irrigate,” said Murphy. “You are wasting potable water by putting it in the ground. We’re saying you have to cut back.”
Belleair resident Robert Allen isn’t happy about the increase. He did the calculations and his bill for two months, based on using 19,000 gallons will jump from $62 to $137.80. For him that is too much all at once.
“If there is going to be an increase it should be gradually phased in over two or three or six months,” he said. “I take their analysis to be true that we aren’t paying enough for our water. But this is like all the roadwork we’re doing. All of a sudden we’re doing it all at once. I have to suffer because previous commissions didn’t do their jobs?”
Part of the new rate structure is the introduction of monthly billing. Up until now residents have been billed every two months. Murphy says the monthly billing should lessen the impact of the new rates.
Allen says he doubts that will have any effect.
“When they say minimize sticker shock I say please define sticker shock,” he said. “The increase will be the same no matter how it is billed.”
Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto also was concerned about the increase. He said so at the Commission meeting and again later.
“My concern is that the rates are going to double or triple for most residents, and I’m not sure they are prepared to see that in their monthly bills and won’t understand why the rates increased,” he said.
Piccarreto said while he agreed to raise the rates, he did so reluctantly.
“Based on the information that was presented there did not seem to be any other alternative that was reasonable to increase revenue for the water department,” he said. “The reality is that with a $300,000 deficit a year something needs to give and we’re bringing it more in line with the rest of Pinellas County.”
Allen said the necessity of having to have water makes it difficult to avoid having to pay more.
“If suddenly it cost us all $5,000 to have Halloween then, if we didn’t like it, we could simply say no more Halloween. We don’t have that option with water,” he said. “Water is of absolute necessity,”
Despite that Allen said he still doesn’t like the way the whole issue has been handled.
“To double the rate shows a lack of sensitivity,” he said. “I think I ought to pay my fair share but give me a chance to adjust my budget.”
He and other Belleair residents will have until October to adjust their budgets. If approved on Sept. 18, the new rates and monthly billing will go into effect then.