Services District holds line again on utility rates

Same as last year, and the year before, and the year before.

“Eight years of no utility increases,” said Dennis Pickle, manager and utilities director of the St. Lucie West Services District.

Pickle spoke to St. Lucie Voice in a phone interview before the Board of Supervisors was slated to take its first vote for the 2018-2019 budget on Tuesday.

The district’s utility rates will stay the same under the proposed budget.

“We’re not projecting any (increases) until probably 2021. If we’re effectively able to keep pushing them down we’ll have 10 years of no rate increases,” Pickle added.

The district is a hybrid governmental body responsible for water, sewage and stormwater management in St. Lucie West. As such, it must hold public hearings about the annual budget and adopt one for the coming fiscal year by the end of September. The second and final budget hearing will be on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

The proposed budget totals $17.4 million. The largest share goes to operating expenses – keeping the proverbial lights on. That’s $8.6 million. The second largest is debt repayment at $5 million. Capital projects, which includes starting construction of the new office at 450 SW Utility Drive, is $3.8 million.

Services District customers pay a base rate of $53.16 a month. The largest portion is for sewer, $19.29. Irrigation is $18.45. Water $15.42. Additionally, the district charges $3.47 for 1,000 gallons of water and $3.86 for 1,000 gallons of sewage.

All property owners in St. Lucie West pay two district assessments on their property taxes. One is for stormwater management. “That’s $106 per (equivalent residential unit,” Pickle said.

The other assessment is for paying off a bond the district issued to build much of its infrastructure. This year property owners paid $186 assessments. “That one actually went up,” Pickle said.

Under the proposed budget, that assessment will be $194 next year. Interestingly, that’s because of the federal government. Bills that cut corporate tax rates had language that increased the cost of paying off some government bonds.

“When the government changed the corporate tax rate, these bonds had an automatic inflator,” Pickle explained.

Payers will see that assessment for a few more years. “That bond is paid off in 2025,” Pickle said.

Residents at the Cascades had a separate bond assessment on their property taxes, but it’s paid off. “In 2019 they no longer see that assessment,” Pickle said.

Last year Cascades property owners paid $180 each on that assessment.

Port St. Lucie has a city-wide stormwater assessment. The St. Lucie West Services District doesn’t have any say over that assessment but does receive 75 percent of what’s paid in its area.

While the district has been the beneficiary of economic developments, such as relatively low fuel prices, Pickle said it has been able to maintain unchanged rates largely through active innovation, such as refinancing bonds at favorable times and tapping evolving technologies that reduce expenses.

“We’re less than 7,000 customers,” he said.

“It’s a little tougher to stay up with the changes in treatment processes and innovative ways to treat and process.”

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