The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority is considering raising rates next year.
During a unanimous vote last week, the ECUA Board approved a 3% hike in water and wastewater rates, and 3.5% for sanitation. If it gains final approval as early as next month, residential water bills would go up about $3.44, depending on usage.
Board member Lois Benson says the increases are aimed at higher tipping fees at Escambia County's Perdido Landfill, and upgrading infrastructure – the deficiencies of which were evident during the storms and flooding in late April.
“You have seen all the problems with the sanitary sewer overflows,” said Benson. “People are very conscious of stormwater issues, so I don’t want to be – and I hate clichés – ‘Penny wise and pound foolish.’ It’s time to invest in a crumbling infrastructure that we inherited when the (ECUA) was formed.”
ECUA is under a consent order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In response, the utility developed a 15-year plan to address infrastructure problems. One challenge, says Benson, is modernizing and maintaining infrastructure in a 450-year-old city.
ECUA is conducting a system-wide analysis of its sewer system, which if laid out end-to-end, has enough pipes to stretch from Pensacola to Boston.
Benson is asking staff to do some research, before the next vote and provide the board with more information about the impact the hike could have on large commercial users of ECUA services.
“We had a situation about two years ago,” Benson said. “An employer came to me and said ‘We’re looking at Alabama, because our utility rates here are so high.’ We did some things at the state level, to help the impact of that. We are doing what we can to minimize the impact on families and businesses.”
Final approval of the rate hikes is not a done deal. Another public hearing will be held prior to the final vote on August 28. If passed, the ECUA Board would formally adopt the increases in September, before a vote on next fiscal year’s budget.