Multiple reasons cause budget shortfall
By Kyle LoJacono
In an economic climate where people are trying to save every penny, Tampa Bay Water is proposing an 8 percent rate increase for water.
The possible increase, which would not take effect until October, would equate to a $1.52 a month for a typical family, or $18.24 a year.
“We use that as an estimation because the average family of four uses about 8,000 gallons each month,” said Michelle Rapp, Tampa Bay Water spokeswoman. “The increase is still being discussed and will be presented to our board of directors on April 19. They will evaluate our budget and then vote on it June 21.”
The nine-member board consists of politicians from Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. One of those members is Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader.
“I’m reluctant to approve the raise in price,” Schrader said. “As we’ve become more efficient with our spending in the county, so should they. I’d want to see them cut as much as they can before raising prices, so I’m not ready to commit to the increase now.”
Schrader is from Pasco District 1, which covers all of Zephyrhills, Dade City, much of Wesley Chapel and some of northern Land O’ Lakes. He has been on the board since 2000.
“In the past we’d used 100 percent ground water to provide water for the Tampa Bay area, which is our cheapest form or water,” said Koni Cassini, Tampa Bay Water director of finance and administration. “Now we are expanding our surface water use and our budget is being cut by about 7 percent. We’ve cut our expenditures by about $500,000, but that hasn’t made enough difference.”
Cassini said the budget for 2010-11 dropped from $176 million to $163 million. Tampa Bay Water responded by eliminating three staff positions for the next fiscal year.
The switch from mainly ground water to surface water and desalination has increased the regional utility’s costs at a time when its budget is shrinking. But the main reason for the potential budget shortfall is the decreased demand for water, the agency reports.
“People’s conservation has been part of the case, but it’s not all because of that,” Cassini said. “We have also seen a decrease because of the very wet winter. People don’t need to water their lawns or plants because of the recent weather. On top of that the down economy has unfortunately led to many foreclosures and obviously those houses aren’t using any water either.”
Both Schrader and Southwest Florida Water Management District executive director Dave Moore agreed with Cassini reasons as to why the demand for water has decreased.
Tampa Bay Water was formed in 1998 to provide water for the three counties and also for the cities of New Port Richey, Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The agency’s six members buy water together, fund the development of new supplies, share in environmental stewardship and pay the same wholesale water rates, reports the utility’s Web site, www.tampabaywater.org. It provides about 186 million gallons of water each day.
“We are an extension of the member government and are a nonprofit,” Rapp said. “We only pass along our costs to the consumer. We don’t make money beyond what it takes to fund our facilities.”
The increase in price would likely cause people to conserve water even more.
“We know that about half the water used in Florida is used outside,” said Pasco County Extension director B.J. Jarvis. “It comes down to choosing the right plants for the right locations…It’s also important to turn off automatic sprinkler systems after it rains because that not only wastes water, but can also kill the plants.”
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