February 2, 2017
Seminole residents fight proposed water rate increase
By Jeff Allen
Residents in parts of Seminole County are fighting a proposed water rate increase, saying it will likely more than double their monthly utility bill.
Utilities Inc. of Florida seeking a rate increase
Some Seminole County residents say they can't afford it
Utilities, Inc. of Florida is asking the state for the rate increase because it says it needs to pay for the cost of operating the utility and earn a fair rate of return on its investment.
Brian Holmes says just the prospect of a rising water bill has him making decisions on what he can and can’t water at home. He still waters his garden, but not his lawn.
“We don’t water our yards,” said Holmes. “We look for that afternoon thunderstorm to come through and water our grass.”
Holmes says he’s trying to rein in his watering habits as he and hundreds of his neighbors brace for rising water bills. Utilities Inc. of Florida is asking the state to approve a rate increase for 10 Florida counties.
In most of those counties, the rate won’t drastically change people’s monthly bills. But people living in the Sanlando area of Seminole County say proposed rate increases could more than double their monthly bill.
On Thursday morning, about 200 of those residents showed up to a public meeting to tell the Florida Public Service Commission what they think about the proposed rate increase.
“This takes about 12 percent out of my social security,” said Bill Longmire, a Longwood resident and water customer. “How am I supposed to recover from that?”
A spokesperson for Utilities, Inc. says the rate increase is designed to cover the cost of repairing and replacing aging infrastructure, which includes money the utility will have to spend in the area where residents’ bills are going up.
And the utility says the increase in some customers’ water rates will simply raise them to the amount other customers have already been paying, evening out water rates across the state.
But some customers say the change in price will be too much on a monthly fixed income.
“And I cannot imagine going up to $140, maybe $300 in the summer, and I know there are people in this room that feel the same way,” said Longmire.
Brian Holmes hopes the Florida rain keeps coming.
“Without mother nature coming in, it would dry up,” says Holmes. “And if that happens, we might have to make some tough choices.”
Thursday was the last day for residents like Holmes to publicly speak on the proposed rate increase. But water customers can still write the Florida Public Service Commission with their input. The commission is expected to make a recommendation on the proposed rate increase in May, and vote in a final decision in June.