Water and sewer rates expected to rise in Zephyrhills

Zephyrhills residents could see an increase on their utility bills, beginning next year.

City staff is recommending a 4-percent increase in water rates and an 8-percent increase in sewer rates for all customers each year for a five-year period, beginning Jan. 1.

The Zephyrhills City Council voted unanimously for City Attorney Matthew Maggard to draft an ordinance regarding the proposed rate increases, during its July 10 meeting.

The first reading of the ordinance is slated for its next council meeting, on July 24.

The new two-story Zephyrhills City Hall will include new council chambers, office and storage space, restrooms, a lobby, stairways, an elevator and a courtyard. (Courtesy of City of Zephyrhills)

As an example, a customer in Zephyrhills using 3,000 gallons of water per month currently sees a bill of $40.03. With the January rate hike, the bill would rise to $43.14, an increase of $3.12. It does not include sanitation rates, which already is an additional $11.25 per month.

Users of 5,000 gallons per month would see their bills increase from $53.29 to 57.52, an increase of $4.23; while users of 7,500 gallons of water a month would see their bills increase from $73.12 to $78.75, an increase of $5.63.

A recent study conducted by Raftelis Finance Consultants, found that 79 percent of residential customers use 5,000 gallons or less a month.

The impeding rate hikes, according to City Manager Steve Spina, are primarily to “help keep up with costs in the Utility Department for operation maintenance.”

Additional revenues from utility also will be used toward debt service, renewal and replacement costs (new pipes, equipment), capital funding (extending services to new development, plant expansions to handle growth) and maintaining reserves.

“I don’t like (rate) increases anymore than the next person,” councilman Lance Smith said, “but, I do like my water to come on when I turn the faucet on.”

The draft ordinance, too, will call for an increase to utility impact fees on new construction.

For a single-family residence, water impact fees are slated to rise from $641 to $1,010. Sewer impact fee rates also are expected to jump from $2,010 to $2,260, for a single-family home.

The city originally sought to enact the rate increases, if approved, by October.

Spina, however, suggested city leaders delay the implementation schedule due to an ongoing water utility project.

Last fall, the city began rolling out a program through a contractor, Arizona-based Fathom, to replace all of the city’s meters and begin a digital monitoring bill-paying system  — costing the city $6 million over two years.

The Fathom rollout led to numerous complaints from residents, who saw their bills go up after installation of new bar meters provided more precise water-usage readings, finding leaks the old system did not detect.

During the council meeting, Spina reasoned that delaying the rate increases will allow the city to fully complete the Fathom transition, and allow customers to adapt to both the new system and new rates.

“We had rough patches with Fathom, which we’re pretty much finalizing and getting through,” Spina said. … “Frankly, we — me and the administration— did not do a very good job of advertising, publicizing and explaining the different events that were going to occur during that rollout, and should we ever have something like this again, we definitely know what to do and what not to do.”

Council president Alan Knight later advised Spina to put together a public outreach campaign for the five-year utility rate increases.

The city’s last five-year rate hike, approved in 2012, called for a 10-percent hike for the first three years and 5 percent the final two years.

In other action, the city council received a visual preview of the new, $6.2 million Zephyrhills City Hall building.

Public works director Shane LeBlanc displayed an artist’s final design rendering of the two-story brick building, which will measure 19,615 square feet.

In January, the council voted to construct the new edifice, replacing the current 13,497-square-foot City Hall, at 5334 Eighth St., which dates back to the 1950s.

Demolition is scheduled in the next few weeks, with construction beginning Aug. 23 and lasting for approximately one year.

Council members expressed enthusiasm for the conceptual drawing showing the west entrance of the property, which features a courtyard plaza that will connect City Hall with the adjacent Zephyrhills Library.

The rendering also shows a fountain as its centerpiece in an area that will include public-use seating.

Besides the courtyard plaza, the new City Hall will include upgraded council chambers, additional office and storage space, restrooms, a lobby, stairways and elevator.

The rendering was furnished by architectural firm Harvard Jolly.

Published July 19, 2017

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