Pinellas Park delays okay of 41 percent increase in sewer rate

Nov. 28, 2000
Saying they want the city's attorney to research if proposed county charges are legal, council members put off a decision to increase sewer rates next year by about 41 percent.

PINELLAS PARK, Fla., Nov. 26, 2000 (St.Petersburg Times) — Saying they want the city's attorney to research if proposed county charges are legal, council members put off a decision to increase sewer rates next year by about 41 percent.

If Pinellas Park passes on county increases to residents, the average user of 6,000 gallons per month would pay about $9 more for service.

Those county costs included normal rate increases as well as an assessment for improvements made to the system during the past 10 years, said Bob Mitchell, director of finance and information systems for Pinellas County Utilities.

The assessment created the most furor at Tuesday's council meeting.

"The retroactive fee is, I believe, illegal," resident Charles Settgast said.

Resident Lester Slone said, "What I can't see is going back seven years."

Assistant City Attorney Tom Reynolds said he was studying that issue and should have an answer by the Dec. 14 meeting, at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N, when the council is scheduled to make a final decision.

Pinellas Park contracted with the county in 1970 for sewer service. Part of that contract, which just ended, prevented the county from charging city residents for improvements to the buildings and facilities until the work is finished.

But Mitchell said that during the past 10 years, the county has made many improvements and has floated about $115-million in bonds to help pay for the $150-million in upgrades to the treatment and disposal facilities.

"The thing that really drives the rates is the $150-million that's been spent here and the financing," Mitchell said.

Pinellas County paid for the improvements by increasing sewer rates for customers in the unincorporated areas. Since 1993, those residents have seen four 15 percent increases in sewer rates, or 75 percent overall.

Now that it's negotiating a new contract with Pinellas Park, the county wants to increase rates in part to charge city residents for that construction.

In essence, Settgast said, the county now wants to assess costs it was previously barred from collecting. "It's up to the leaders of Pinellas Park to see through these games."

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