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Sarasota Wednesday, Jun. 30, 2010 7 years ago

Water rates to hit part-time residents

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Download a chart detailing the water bill changes here.

The city’s water and sewer rates will rise next year, but a new rate plan shifts the majority of the burden to part-time residents and major water consumers. The average residential user is likely to see his bill decline.
City commissioners OK’d the new plan June 23.

The economic downturn has had an effect on the city’s water-and-sewer operations. Foreclosures and vacancies mean fewer customers, and that equals less revenue.

Because the water-and-sewer department has so many fixed costs, such as personnel and maintenance requirements, any drop in revenue has large implications.

Rates will rise 4% next year to help offset that decline in revenue, but the city wants to divide those costs more equitably among the water-and-sewer customers.

“Do you want the 4% on the average user or on the high user or seasonal user?” City Manager Bob Bartolotta asked commissioners.

The commission chose the latter, deciding that imposing a new service-availability fee is the best way to recoup lost revenue.

The city incurs fixed costs, such as personnel, maintenance, etc., to provide water and sewer service even if a home or condo is vacant. Currently it only charges a $20 turn-on fee, when a customer begins service.

Many other communities charge a service-availability fee that is designed to recoup some of those fixed costs.

City commissioners decided to impose a similar service-availability fee in Sarasota that will be charged when a seasonal resident is away or when a rental home or unit is vacant.

Concerned, though, that it could be an unfair burden on landlords who are between tenants, the city may provide a 30-day grace period, in which no fee would be charged.

That time could allow landlords to find a new tenant and avoid the cost.

The average residential water user consumes between 2,000 and 6,000 gallons per month. That user makes up 64% of all residential customers.

Next year, the average user will see his monthly bills decline by as much $1.06 or rise a maximum of 85 cents.

The high-volume users — those who go through more than 8,000 gallons per month — will see their monthly bills rise anywhere from $2.35 to $12.08. The more water they use, the higher the rate.

Commissioner Terry Turner said although he supported the rate change, he feared that it could cause more people to dig their own wells to save money, which he thinks is bad for the environment.

“It’s kind of an unintended consequence,” he said.

But municipal water consultant Andy Burnham told Turner that in his experience customers don’t flock to private well use, because at a cost of several thousand dollars, it can take years to break even on the investment. Plus, customer still needs sewer service.

Barring any changes, beginning Sept. 1 the average monthly water-and-sewer bill for customers using 4,000 gallons per month would be $63.31 next year. That’s down from $64.40 this year.

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