Tuesday is the last opportunity for the public to weigh in on the next five years of proposed rate increases for water and sewer.
The Charlotte County Commission will hold its public hearings starting at 10 a.m. in the county building at Murdock Circle.
If passed by the board, the increases for water and sewer rates combined would start at 7 percent in April. After that, the annual increases would march on at 7, 7, 5 and 5 percent, respectively. For a single-family customer using 4,000 gallons a month, this would translate to a jump from the current $92.69 combined bill a month, to $99.16 starting in April. By year five, the rate would be $125.15. That will be $1,501.80 annually.
Charlotte County has one of the highest rates in the region, according to Public Resources Management Group, Inc., the county’s rate consultant. Reasons for the high rates include the county’s $100 million debt after purchasing the private General Development Utilities when General Development Corporation went bankrupt in the 1990s. General Development was the prime developer of Charlotte County starting in the 1950s.
Charlotte County as a community also has one of the oldest demographics in the nation, which translates into very small households. This requires the county to maintain a very large supply network with relatively few people to pay for it.
Not only are Charlotte County rates high for the region, they are high for the nation. American Public Media lists the annual water and sewer bill in 2018 as $576 for the city of Chicago or $399 for Phoenix, Arizona. The city of Cleveland has seen soaring rate increases of 109 percent since 2010. It is currently at $1,317 a year.
Commissioners considered six possible rate increases, and picked a combination of two that was higher than any of the options. Originally, they considered keeping water and sewer separate, because the county has more water than sewer customers. That would have left water increases at 2.5 percent, but sewer rates would have increased by 11.5 percent for three years. Commissioner Joe Tiseo pointed out that recent customers who have been forced to give up septic would be overwhelmed.
Aging and insufficient infrastructure is blamed for much of the increase across the nation, including Charlotte County. The county is currently replacing water and sewer mains in many locations. Replacement of sewer mains has been required by the state Department of Environmental Protection after the systems failed during Hurricane Irma and sent sewage into the county waterways. The county is also building new infrastructure to the tune of $70 million in anticipation of a continued growth spurt.