Customers’ bills to rise accordingly
It took just a little over 3 minutes on April 11 for the majority of the Sarasota County commissioners to approve the implementation of the Florida Public Service Commission’s 2023 price index for Sarasota County’s water and wastewater utilities.
The vote was 3-1, with Commissioner Mike Moran in the minority. Moran did not offer any comments prior to the vote.
The 2023 index is 7.07%, Mike Mylett, director of the Public Utilities Department, reminded the board members.
The 2022 price index was 4.53%, a county staff memo noted.
“As provided in the [County Code of Ordinances], not less than ten days before a customer begins consumption at the adjusted rates, the franchised utility shall notify each of its customers, by first-class U.S. mail, of the increase authorized and explain the reasons for the increase in writing,” the memo pointed out.
During their March 22 budget workshop, Mylett made a presentation to the commissioners about the need to maintain higher customer utility rates to help the county pay off bonds that have been, and will be, issued to fund the conversion of the county’s three major wastewater facilities to Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) status. That switch dramatically reduces the amount of nitrogen in the treated wastewater, which results in cleaner water quality in Sarasota Bay, Mylett has noted.
Red tide researchers have pointed to nitrogen as the primary food for the red tide algae, Karenia brevis.
A chart that Mylett showed the commissioners in May 2019 said that the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) on Lorraine Road outside Sarasota produces 238,000 pounds of nitrogen each year, which ends up in area waterways. The AWT conversion will lower that to 38,000 pounds a year, Mylett’s slide said.
The AWT conversion already is underway at the Bee Ridge facility, with the next project to involve the Venice Gardens WRF. The Central County WRF on Palmer Ranch will be the last of the facilities to undergo the change.
During the March budget workshop, Mylett also noted his department’s efforts to deal with rising costs, including the prices of chemicals. He added that the Public Utilities Department would be paying an extra $600,000 to Florida Power & Light Co. this year because that company had implemented a 10% rate hike.
A slide Mylett presented the commissioners on April 11 explained that the goal of creating the price index, in 1981, was to “ensure that inflationary pressures are not detrimental to utility owners and that any possible deflationary pressures are not adverse to customers.”
The county staff memo included in the April 11 agenda packet noted that, on Sept. 21, 2016, the commissioners seated at that time adopted an ordinance that required them and future boards “to adopt a price index equivalent to the price index established annually by the Florida Public Service Commission for water and wastewater utilities. The price index allows franchised utilities to implement an increase in rates based on the application of the price index on operating expenses.”
Further, that memo pointed out that, since the adoption of the ordinance, the commissioners had cast unanimous votes in favor of implementing the price index. The first vote was in 2017.