Services District: No utility rate hike in works

The main number St. Lucie West residents will care about is $0.

That’s the proposed utilities rate increase for the St. Lucie West Services District’s proposed 2018-2019 budget.

“We haven’t raised them since 2010,” said Dennis Pickle, the district’s manager and utilities director.

Pickle said workers at the district have come up with numerous innovative cost reductions over the years that has allowed it to keep utility rates steady without risking shocking increases later. Most living in St. Lucie West single-family homes pay about $85 to $95 a month for water and sewer. The combined base rates equal about $53. The irrigation charge is water is $3.47 for every 1,000 gallons. Sewage is $3.86 for every 1,000 gallons. Residents also pay a monthly irrigation charge of $18.45.

The district, like other governmental and hybrid governmental bodies in Florida, will have its final budget adoption in September. The district doesn’t levee any ad valorem taxes, but does have a non ad valorem assessment that property owners in the district pay. Those will appear in the Truth in Millage notices the St. Lucie County Property Appraiser sends out in August. “They won’t see any increase in the assessed storm-water fee or irrigation rates,” Pickle said.

There is one thing that will increase – an assessment that appears on all St. Lucie West residents’ tax bills pays for the water management bond issued at the district’s start. That assessment can vary from year to year, but – like rates – has stayed steady since 2010.

“It went from $186 last year to $194 this year,” Pickle said, a proposed $8 increase for the ’18-’19 budget.

The district had refinanced the bond a few years ago, which reduced the interest without extending the length. The bond is slated to end in 2025. Pickle said there has been a recent increase in the interest – from 2.44 to 2.97 – for an unexpected reason.

“The government changed the corporate tax rate and that triggered an increase in the bond interest rate,” Pickle said.

However, he said that even with the interest-rate increase, which the district was aware could happen when it refinanced the bond, St. Lucie West residents are still paying less than they would have without the refinancing.

Cascade residents had been paying a separate bond, which was paid off during this fiscal year. The assessment was $180 last year. It won’t appear on property-tax bills anymore.

Port St. Lucie has a city-wide stormwater assessment that was $158 this fiscal year. The St. Lucie West Services District doesn’t have any say over that assessment, but does receive 75 percent of what is paid in its area.

The proposed budget includes the utility fund, which is funded by utility rates. The proposed 2018-2019 utility fund is about $9.8 million. The general budget, which is funded by assessments, will be about $3.7 million.

The district will either purchase the current clubhouse at St. Lucie Trail Golf Club or build a new administrative office at 450 SW Utility Drive this coming fiscal year. Pickle said the district won’t have to raise any additional money for either.

The district is a Community Development District, which is a hybrid creation of the state Legislature. The districts operate as governmental bodies to deliver limited municipal services, such as water and sewer.  

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