Typical household could see monthly bill increase $1.06

MANATEE COUNTY — Households are likely to pay $1.06 more per month for water, sewer and garbage collection service from Manatee County next year.

On Tuesday, the County Commission got an overview of the Utilities Department, which maintains $1.2 billion in infrastructure, employs 420, receives $181.6 million in annual operating revenues from 125,370 customer accounts and plans $199.3 million in capital projects during the next five years.

The department, which does not rely on property taxes, recommends that the County Commission raise rates on monthly bills 1.4% as of Jan. 1. That would increase a typical household’s bill, based on use of 6,000 gallons of potable water per month, from $75.85 to $76.91.

According to a report to the commission, by comparison, the same household would pay $77.67 in Hillsborough County, $81.18 in Pinellas County, $92.12 in Sarasota County, $119.22 in Charlotte County and $141.93 in Desoto County.

Manatee last raised the rates in April 2018, a 4% hike that increased the typical household bill from $72.94 to $75.85.

The commissioners could not vote on the recommended higher rate during the information session and can do so in a later public hearing.

Utilities officials discussed an array of rising expenses including upkeep of the Lake Manatee dam, meter and pipeline replacements, upgraded filtration for potable water, seven additional staff positions and expanded capacity at the three wastewater treatment plants.

Mark Simpson, deputy director of potable water, said the extra personnel and revenue are needed to maintain “quality control.”

“You always have to reinvest in that infrastructure,” Jeff Goodwin, deputy director of wastewater, said. “It’s a continual thing.”

Commissioner Betsy Benac said raising rates is not a popular move, but “we’re doing it for a reason” that the public should support, such as protecting “water quality.”

“Our number one role as commissioners is public health and safety,” Commissioner Carol Whitmore said.

Commissioner Misty Servia commended the Utilities Department for engaging in “visionary, proactive planning.”

“The infrastructure improvements are never ending,” Servia said. “It’s like laundry at my house.”

Whitmore asked the administration to get in touch with the town of Longboat Key about its plans for replacing its sewage pipeline in Sarasota Bay to the county’s southwest wastewater treatment plant. Whitmore says the two local governments need “a tight emergency plan” should the half century-old pipeline have a break.