Combined water-sewer rates may take huge hike in October

By Lisa Zahner

VERO BEACH — Customers of the City of Vero Beach Utilities, already dealing with rate hikes on their electric bills, could be facing significant increases on their bills for water, sewer and irrigation water on October 1. The City’s Finance and Utilities advisory commissions meet to discuss these increases on Thursday.The recommended rate increases are in response to the first rate study completed in 18 years and the fact that the water and sewer utilities have been running in the red due to reduced consumption combined with rising overhead and maintenance on an aging system. In general, water rates are slated to rise by 7.5 percent annually for the next four years. Should the City Council accept the recommendations of consultant Henry Thomas, wastewater (sewer) rates would soar by a whopping 29.5 percent in October and then 8.5 percent in 2011 and another 6.5 percent in 2012.

Major changes to the rate structure would include the elimination of the “minimum gallons” charge on both residential and commercial bills, which may reduce costs for seasonal residents during the months when they’re living elsewhere.Studies presented by Thomas at the rate meeting in June show that when water and sewer rates rise, users find ways to cut their bills by using less. To encourage residents to conserve, the City is proposing the adoption of a four-tiered rate system that would reward residents for this effort and a discounted indoor use rate for potable water. Commercial water rates would be a single rate for all levels of use in recognition of the fact that businesses have fewer opportunities to conserve in the way they use water and sewer services.A residential family using 6,000 gallons of potable water per month now pays about $50.59 for its combined water and sewer service. After October 1, that same amount of water would cost $61.96 and that would go up to $66.87 in October of 2011. A customer on the Indian River County utilities system would pay about $58 for the same amount of water under current rates. The average of other neighboring utilities from Stuart to Ormond Beach totals $74.50 for 6,000 gallons each of water and sewer usage.Commercial rates are also slated to go up, with a business customer who is now paying $154.96 for 20,000 gallons of combined water and sewer facing a $26 increase in October to $181.86. Indian River County utility customers pay about $220 for the same amount of usage and the average for neighboring systems is $257.10 for the same amount of water and sewer services.

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