Wednesday, Apr 23, 2014
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PR irrigation water rates spark debate

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PORT RICHEY — Debate over water irrigation rates produced a flood of viewpoints as Port Richey City Council members recently revisited the issue.

The city’s first water rate hike in nearly a decade took effect in October. Changes threw some customers for a loop when they got bills with huge increases, primarily among the 164 irrigation customers of Port Richey Utilities.

The city adjusted bills by $12,503.02 on 58 accounts that qualified for one-time relief, according to Sal Licari, utility billing supervisor.

In one example, a customer with an irrigation meter paid $82.38 for 28,000 gallons of water under the old rates, City Manager Tom O’Neill noted in a memo. That same customer would get a bill of $342.62 under the new rates.

City officials have gone out of their way to help heavy water users adjust to new realities, council members agreed. Some grant money might become available to pay for rain sensors that would automatically shut off sprinkling systems on rainy days, O’Neill said.

The utility needs adequate revenue, O’Neill emphasized. Old rates often did not produce enough revenue to meet expenses, especially the bulk water the city buys wholesale.

“You cannot deliver any more cheap water,” Councilman Steve O’Neill commented. “It does not exist.”

To reduce the risk of saltwater intrusion, Port Richey wells only pump up to 450,000 gallons of water of high-quality water a day, O’Neill noted. Typical demand for water can range between 700,000 and 900,000 gallons a day, meaning Port Richey has to buy water from New Port Richey to make up the difference.

“it is generally accepted that outdoor water use in a coastal community like our can be 25 percent to 35 percent (or more) of the total daily demand,” O’Neill wrote in a memo to council.

“That’s crazy,” Councilman Bill Colombo said about old rates that allowed up to 56,000 gallons or irrigation at $2.85 per 1,000 gallons. That’s almost 2,000 gallons a day, he complained. “We have people using way too much water.”

It would be impractical to go back to the former rates, Colombo believes.

Councilman Terry Rowe begged to differ.

“I’m ready to go back to the drawing board” on water rates, Rowe remarked. He thinks too many inconsistencies remain in the new rates.

During public comments, a resident complained about paying for sewer service even when he is only washing his boat. He recommended the city revert to old rates until issues can be resolved.

Mayor Eloise Taylor asked about the city adding reclaimed water service for irrigation to reduce pressure on the potable water wells.

O’Neill said he had met with New Port Richey officials about their surplus of reclaimed water. The city manager said he was “encouraged” by the preliminary discussions.

Rowe, however, thinks reclaimed water remains a pipe dream. A reclaimed water system for a small city would be too expensive to build, he said.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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