MURDOCK — A 21.5 percent rate increase for water customers in Charlotte Harbor is part of a long overdue overhaul for the 57-year-old private utility, its superintendent told customers.
About 50 people attended Monday’s meeting of the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Harbor Water Association, which serves about 5,000 customers. The district will include the Sunseeker resort scheduled to go up on the western edge.
Starting in February, the bill for a typical homeowner using 4,000 gallons of water a month will go from $39.62 to $48.15 a month. This is the largest increase in recent memory and the only one preceded by a rate study, Superintendent Scott Baker said.
The new rate is slightly less than a similar bill in DeSoto County, but $3.36 more than the city of Venice, Baker said.
A second rate increase could be in the works in the coming years as the utility implements about $27 million worth of capital improvements. The anticipated opening of Sunseeker resort could help offset future rate increases, Baker said, because large customers pay at a higher rate and increase the economy of scale.
Even though the utility’s last rate increase was only about 5 cents, the prospect of big rate increases did not seem to offend many.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said customer Steve Koulis, who noted his water bill back in Chicago was much higher.
Customers had questions, and many already knew the extent to which their water system was outdated.
Joyce Pears said she learned recently the fire hydrant in front of her home can’t be used for fires, except to fill a tanker truck. That’s because the miles of 2- and 4-inch water lines, installed in the 1960s, can’t provide adequate pressure.
“Why has it not been addressed?” she asked.
The utility should have known this starting in the late 1970s, said Baker, who was hired about a year ago.
“It’s been 44 years and it’s not been addressed? The predecessors should be ashamed of themselves,” Pears said.
In early 2017, the entire board resigned as did a new manager who had been a board member. The utility had been under the direction of a prior manager for decades.
With the new management, the utility embarked on its overhaul in 2017, recognizing that would need costly equipment upgrades, including $9 million to replace most of the 44 miles of pipes. To address this, the board has been preparing to apply for a combination grant-loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To qualify for the federal loan, USDA requires applicants to show their rates are based on an analysis of cost and income.
The utility must also finally fix its problem with releasing high salt water into the San Marino Canal. On the grounds of economic hardship, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed the utility to do this with the water leftover after purification. But that exception is about to end, and the utility must build a $6.4 million injection well.
Other signs of an outdated system, Baker said, are the meters, some of which are so off they may register only 30 percent of the actual flow into a household. The utility will gradually replace these meters over time, he said.