BROOKSVILLE — Resident John Murphy said Hernando County for years has preached water conservation and how important it is to be prudent when irrigating lawns and cutting back on household usage.
County commissioners learned this week that the utilities department is not collecting enough money from residents, who make up 94 percent of the customer base. Faced with a decrease in usage combined with the need to fund capital improvement projects, commissioners voted unanimously to hike water and wastewater rates about $2.73 a month for the average residential customer who uses 7,000 gallons a month.
Murphy, vice president of United Communities of Hernando County, said these hikes punish people who have been “good stewards.”
“Let’s get real here,” said Murphy, whose organization represents some 25 homeowner associations. “We have to pay more attention to what’s happening to people in this county who can’t afford any more higher taxes. They’ve been beaten to death.”
The county instead should go after “water hogs” who don’t conserve and raise their rates, Murphy said.
The current tier system, which adjusts rates according to usage, is working fine and should be kept intact, he said.
County commissioners said they dislike raising rates. However, if they don’t, there won’t be enough money to fund about $100 million in utility capital improvement projects.
Commissioner Dave Russell said the county must maintain its regulatory duty to make sure its utility department remains solvent.
“While it’s not really appetizing to raise rates, by the same token, it’s prudent,” Russell said.
The utilities department estimates the increase would raise about $1.25 million more revenue per year, or $6.25 million in five years. The money will help fund about $100 million in utility capital improvement projects.
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson praised Environmental Services Director Susan Goebel-Canning for trimming the capital improvement projects down to bare minimum. One project , he said, is the de-commissioning of the Osowaw Wastewater Treatment Plant and diverting water to a new facility near the airport.
Nicholson said the county is planning ahead to maintain the current level of service and quality of life.
“I think it would be irresponsible if we didn’t do this,” Nicholson said.
Goebel-Canning said even with the rate hike, Hernando County is competitive with neighboring counties.
The increases in water and wastewater service rates will go into effect Oct. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.
Goebel-Canning said the current rates have not changed since 2009 and they are not high enough to fund the expenditure needs of the utility department’s capital program for the next five years.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting:
♦ County commissioners unanimously voted to approve a master plan revision allowing a developer to build a shopping center on 20.4 acres on the northwest corner of County Line Road and Mariner Boulevard.
Joel Tew, land use property attorney representing the landowner, has said the mix of tenants would likely include a bank, convenience store, drug store and other service-related establishments.
One concern was adding more traffic at an intersection that is often clogged with cars.
“We cannot add traffic at that intersection without improving the intersection as well,” said resident Anthony Palmieri.
Tew said improvements will be made. There will be two access points off Mariner Boulevard and two off County Line Road and a reverse frontage road running throughout the complex.
♦ County commissioners voted to spend $250,000 to take ownership of the Lake House in Spring Hill from the Spring Hill Civic Association.
The Lake House, at 1202 Kenlake Ave., sits on 17 acres and is next to the Little Red Schoolhouse and the Hunter’s Lake boat ramp. The facility has 2,950 square feet, an outdoor pavilion and band shell.
The county plans to hold community events at the site.