Sarasota, Florida -- Sarasota City Commissioners are proposing another two years of higher water bills. If approved, it would make four straight years of rate hikes for homeowners. Utilities officials say they need to keep up with maintenance, but homeowners say they need to keep up with their bills.
Sarasota homeowner Bob Graff is trying to do his part to save water and money.
"Once a week the water comes on for three minutes -- it's micro irrigation," explains Graff of his water system that releases a mist.
But news of possible water rate hikes makes Bob feel like he's, well, getting hosed.
"We're still hurting living paycheck to paycheck every week and here goes another increase," says Graff.
Sarasota City Commissioners are proposing a 6% increase each year over the next two years for the average homeowner. That's an extra $54 a year totaling $108 over two years.
"I rather use it on my family than a water bill," Graff says.
Utilities officials' original proposal was to increase rates beyond the next two years and include 4% rate hikes each year for 8 years. They say the water rate increase would help keep the department from going deeper debt. They say without the increase they would have to burrow the $63 million needed to do the necessary maintenance over the next 10 years, adding to the $65 million it already owes.
"We have water pipes that are 60 and 70 years old and can average as much as $100,000 to repair," says Mitt Tidwell, Sarasota's utilities director.
Tidwell says there are 250 miles of sewer pipes and 275 miles of water pipes that need replacing.
Tidwell says the utilities department's operating budget depends on money collected from water bills and like any business, it too faces the same cost increases.
When asked why not cut the fat from its operating cost, such as at the administrative level, Tidwell says, "Well there is always room for some cuts at some locations. We're fairly lean at the administrative level."
The utilities department contracts out many jobs such as this sewer job next door to keep overhead down, but Tidwell says it's not enough.
The proposed rate hikes about $4 to $6 a month for homeowners.
"I'd like to see it go down 4 to 6 dollars a month not go up," Graff says.
According to utilities officials, Sarasota's rates are about average compared to neighboring cities. Palmetto rates are about $20 lower, while Fort Myers water bill rates are about $20 higher compared to Sarasota.
Sarasota City Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a date not yet set before voting on the new rates.