PORT RICHEY — Higher rates for Port Richey water and sewer services caught some customers off guard, so council members have voted for one-time relief on bills for some 134 customers who did not adjust lawn watering habits.
After the restructured rates went into effect Nov. 15, one person received a bill that increased from about $48 to $213, Councilman Steve O’Neill pointed out.
The billing dilemma highlighted another problem that some residents excessively irrigate their lawns, council members agreed. In one instance a customer used 66,000 gallons of water in one billing cycle, City Manager Tom O’Neill reported.
Because regulators require the city to conserve water, council members agreed to investigate adding reclaimed water service to the city utility. Only Councilman Terrence Rowe voted against the idea because he thought a reclaimed water system for a small city would be too expensive to build.
City officials emphasized that the relief on utility bills would be for one time only.
Raising rates was not a “snap judgment,” Councilman Bill Colombo commented. Council members studied the issue for more than a year and held numerous meetings.
The Port Richey utility had not raised rates in 10 years, Councilman O’Neill stressed. That meant the city utility was operating below costs, the city manager confirmed.
Rowe, however, said the city gave little notice to residents about higher rates, basically a brief blurb at the bottom of statements mailed about a month or so before the changes. Several residents said they did not see the note.
Rowe expressed dissatisfaction that the city buys about one-third of its water supply wholesale from New Port Richey. Port Richey produces two-thirds of its own water, but saltwater intrusion forced the closure of several wells and reduction in pumping from other wells.
Rowe still thought the rate case study was “flawed” and the city should review the changes.
The new rates are working, Councilwoman Nancy Britton said. Problems stem from irrigation issues, she thinks.
Mayor Eloise Taylor praised city staff for assisting customers with water bill problems. But Taylor recommended studying possible adjustments to water rate tiers.
Taylor suggested adding a formal policy for discounts and adjustments in the event of undetected water leaks. One customer who usually paid a $30 bill got a $3,000 bill one month because of //such// an underground leak, she recalled.