Rate Increase If Board And Commissioners Agree At Public Meetings
LABELLE, FL. -- The Port LaBelle Utility District will be holding two hearings this month to set new higher rates for all water customers in Hendry county's largest subdivision.
The first hearing will be held next Wednesday, January 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the County Commission Chambers at the Hendry Courthouse to increase residential and commercial water and sewer rates. Another will be January 22 at 5 p.m.
Currently, residential customers pay a $30 monthly flat rate for water and sewer even if no water is used and about $6.36 for the first thousand gallons of water used. Almost one in twelve of Port LaBelle customers get charged $30 every month without using any water or sewer.
PLUS wants to increase the base fees and usage rates for everyone up to 20% more than currently charged.
Director Roger Greer for the Port LaBelle Utility System says more income is needed to run the utility service and he wants to raise both the base rate and usage rates for water and sewer to bring in about $200,000 more yearly.
Greer said today he doesn't have any proposal ready yet to submit to the Boards or a final report available for inspection, and could only guess that the rates increase may be proposed in the range of 18 to 20%. Greer indicated Jennifer Davis, the county finance officer would be looking over the budget numbers this week to make a recommended increase percentage across the board for all customers.
Greer says a 20% increase to customers would bring in an additional $200,000 a year.
A final report from outside consultants Tetra Tech apparently won't be ready until just before the meeting next week, leaving the public in the dark as to what is being proposed and the numbers the rate increase proposal is based upon.
The last rate increase in Port LaBelle was 2007. A past study by the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency recommended the Utility system implement rates to encourage water conservation. Current rates include a base fee which is charged whether water is used or not, not encouraging saving water.
A proposed across the board rate increase would be a disincentive for water conservation some say since customers would be charged a possible base fee of about $36 for using no water, and only about $8 additional for each thousand more gallons.
Costs to the Ultility system include a Hendry County charge for an "administration fee" yearly of $110,000 which some say is a hefty fee for it's service. Also, local resident John Capece charges the Utility Board $2,500 every month as a "facilitator".
Outside consultants for the District, Tetra Tech wrote in a September draft report that based on historical data provided by the county, PLUS had an income of $64,906 for Fiscal Year 2010/2011. The utility showed a loss for the preceding three years and transferred funds from it's cash reserve account to cover.
A minimum of $218,172 must be maintained as cash reserves to cover customer deposits and debt service. There is $250,000 in the reserve fund now.
Greer could not say how much Tetra Tech was paid for it's report, only that it's work is part of additional work done for the District.
The system services 1,044 Hendry residential customers connections with water and sewer and 427 connections in the Glades County section of Port LaBelle with water only. There are also 28 commercial customers with water and sewer and 7 with water service only.
The 2nd and final chance Port LaBelle water and sewer customers will have to voice opposition to rate increases will be at the Hendry County Commission meeting Tuesday, January 22 starting at 5 p.m. at the County Commission Chambers at the Courthouse.