Utility rates going up 2% in the city

Photo by Norman Schimmel

It’s final. Your water and sewer rates are going up 4% at the start of September if you live in the city.

The Sarasota city commissioners approved the hike 4-1 during their regular meeting on Aug. 20, with Commissioner Willie Shaw in the minority. The rates will jump another 4% on Sept. 1, 2013, for a combined 8% increase over two years.

The idea is to pay down the city’s bond indebtedness, saving millions in interest over the coming years. However, attorney Dan Lobeck took exception to one provision of the action — the suspension of impact fees while residents will pay more.

“You can reduce this increase by a full 2%,” he told the commission. “It would be wrong to give developers a free ride while you hit the public with an 8% increase. It’s unfair.”

David Smith with the city’s Planning Department said the City Commission waived the utility impact fees last year. Normally, impact fees are a way of “making growth pay for itself.” However, Smith explained the city population is actually falling. “The population is down 3,700 in the past three or so years,” he said. “We now have excess capacity at the treatment plant. There’s really not a requirement to collect impact fees.”

Interim Utilities Chief Bill Hallisey showed the commission a graph indicating water usage is going down overall, including the amount used per capita. “Any development or redevelopment will use the new plumbing systems, which are more efficient he said. “We designed [the system] for 125 gallons per day, per person. We’re now at less than 100 gallons per day on average.”

“We could add 20,000 more people without adding any equipment, right?” asked City Commissioner Shannon Snyder.

“Basically, yes,” said Hallisey.