The City Commission authorized a decade of higher water and sewer fees Monday. The board also approved new Rosemary District zoning and the closure of a portion of School Avenue.
Although the board remained divided, the City Commission has finalized its approval of a plan that could allow for 11 consecutive years of water and sewer utility rate increases.
In a 3-2 vote Monday, the board authorized a proposal to raise its utility rates 3.5% annually between fiscal years 2020 and 2030. Staff proposed the rate increases to fund $377 million in infrastructure improvements, which they said are necessary to rehabilitate an aging system.
Bill Riebe, the city’s utilities director, said the average residential customer uses 4,000 gallons of water a month. That equates to a bill of $80 per month, he said. Under the proposal, customers paying $80 per month would see a monthly increase of $2.80 beginning September 2019, with additional rate increases every year after that.
The monthly bill for that average customer would increase from $80 to about $117 by 2030. That represents an annual cost increase from $960.60 to $1,402.44 over the course of more than a decade.
Commissioner Hagen Brody questioned the usefulness of the $80 average figure, asking Riebe if the numbers were skewed by seasonal residents who didn’t consume any water for portions of the year. During the meeting, Riebe did not have information available about average rates for full-time residents, but he stood by the figures staff presented. Brody disagreed that it fully reflected the effects the change would have on residents.
“It’s not fair to say it’s only going to be a couple of bucks for most people,” Brody said.
Commissioner Willie Shaw said he supported the proposal because he believed the city needed to ensure the long-term functionality of its water and sewer utility. He agreed a rate increase wasn’t ideal, but he said officials had failed to identify another solution for raising funds for the projects staff identified.
Shaw noted that, if an alternative were to arise in the future, the city isn’t obligated to raise rates every year.
“It’s not in stone,” Shaw said.
Mayor Liz Alpert and Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch voted with Shaw in favor of the proposal. Brody and Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie cast the dissenting votes.
Also at Monday’s meeting:
- The commission voted unanimously to send proposed changes to the Rosemary Residential Overlay District to the state for review. The revisions would allow for higher density in the neighborhood in exchange for establishing heightened design standards and incentives for the production of affordable housing. Staff said the new overlay district could get final approval later this year.
- The board voted 4-1 to finalize the closure of a segment of School Avenue that cuts through the Sarasota High School campus. Per the terms of an agreement with Sarasota County Schools, the school district will fund up to $3 million in transportation improvements on the west and east sides of the campus.
- The commission agreed to hold a special meeting Monday, Aug. 26 on the future of Bobby Jones Golf Club. In July, the city asked a consultant to produce a report on the possibility of reducing the size of the municipal course from 45 holes to 27 or 18 holes.
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