The Pinellas County Government is getting ready to stick it to the middle class and poor again. This time it will be through a 7 to 30% increase in water and sewer fees. About 600,000 people will be affected Those living in unincorporated Pinellas and the cities of Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Pinellas Park, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar. The rates have been going up every year since 2011 and the new request would have them continue to increase through 2019. There was also a rate hike in 2009. The rates are for water supplied to about 2/3 of the residents of Pinellas County. Also increased will be rates for reclaimed water and sewer.
Say NO MORE WATER AND SEWER RATE HIKES!
Pinellas county government Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 6:00 p.m.
Pinellas County Courthouse, 5th floor Assembly Room, 315 Court Street, Clearwater
An analysis of the proposed rate increases by the Sunbeam Times indicates that water rates will increase 7% from 2016 to 2019 for the base water rate (for merely being hooked up to the system). The rates will climb an additional 7% from 2016 to 2019 for the volume used (per 1,000 gallons). The reclaimed water rates will rise 20-30% from 2016-2019. At the 5/5/15 public hearing at the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners, an informed citizen indicated that in 2009 the reclaimed water rate was $6 and now is about $21 (see agenda item 3). The County likes to portray its rate hikes as a “small” 1.75% per year, but they don’t show the cumulative effect over several years which would have a 7-30% increase in rates for water and reclaimed water by 2019.
The County government claims it needs the rate increases for “increased costs associated with improvements and upgrades to the infrastructure, maintaining adequate cash flows, reserves and debt service coverage and purchasing water from Tampa Bay Water”. That resolution to increase the rates stated that the County Commission had actually “considered the increased costs”, yet there was no discussion or presentation whatsoever relating to what those costs were (public meeting item 3). It is more likely that the cost of employee health and retirement benefits are outstripping the funds available through the services provided. There was no discussion at all on ways to cut spending or an analysis of the so-called increased costs. The County Commissioners, Republican and Democrat alike, merely rubberstamped the item as the “1st public hearing” and scheduled it for a final vote on 5/19.
Citizens can show up at the 5/19 county meeting to voice their concerns and ask why the utility service can be provided with the same amount of revenue. What costs have gone up? What are the staff salary and benefit costs? The County has had a windfall of an additional $191.4 million in revenues collected over the amount of spending from 2009-2013. There are excess reserves of at least $30 million that can be accounted for easily (page 142 here – PDF p 185). The proposed fee hike will bring in only an addition $8.5 million per year. Is there not an addition $8.5 million per year in spending that can be cut from the bureaucracy? Is it time to renegotiate the generous union-based pension and benefit packages? These are questions that are unlikely to be asked by County Commissioners – most are big government liberals and the Republicans have on the board routinely approve every fee and tax hike that comes there way.
Citizens, your taxes and fees are in your hands, but you will need to show up to demand a change in your massive government.