|Posted by Anne Siren on November 30, 2012 at 1:50 PM|
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea – After nearly a year of trying, town commissioners this week approved an ordinance setting sewer rates in the south end of town.
With the changes, the average single-family homeowner who uses 8,000 gallons of water a month will see a rate increase of 20 percent. The bill goes from $42.57 to $51.27.
The vote on the ordinance was 4-1, Vice Mayor Scot Sasser dissenting. “Overall fixed costs went down significantly,” said Tony Bryan, finance director, explaining the changes.
To determine the bill, you have to look at all three pieces of the rate: the fixed charge, customer service charge of $1.31 and the volumetric charge, Town Manager Connie Hoffmann said.
Under the new rate structure, single-family homeowners will pay a little more; multi-family homeowners and hotel owners will pay much, much less, and restaurants will pay more, Bryan said.
“The reason rates went up is that residents told us they’d rather pay for what they use,” Hoffmann said.
With the new rate structure, the base facility charge for a single-family home decreases from $14.92 to $8.92. The base charge for multi-family residential decreases from $14.26 per unit to $3.68. And commercial units went from $16.33 to $8.92.
Revenues collected will decline by 10 percent, Bryan said.
These changes apply only to those residences and businesses from Pine Avenue south.
Three cities are involved in providing sewer service to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
LBTS owns sewer lines in the south end, south of Pine Avenue. The City of Pompano Beach owns sewer lines in the north end of town, and bills residents directly. The town contracts with Fort Lauderdale to handle billing for sewer service in the south end of town.
The town has a Master Sewer Agreement with Pompano Beach that covers the cost of transporting sewage to the plant and the cost of treating it.
The town hired a consultant, Mike Burton of Burton & Associates, to develop a plan after determining that sewer rates south of Palm Avenue were too low and weren’t bringing in enough revenue to cover expenses. Rates hadn’t increased in the south end since 2004, while Pompano Beach had increased rates on the north end several times in the same period.
“We don’t have our own sewage plant, so we’re captives of Pompano Beach,” Commissioner Mark Brown noted. “Our only maneuverability is in how we divvy up the bill.”
Brown said the commission tried to adopt the rates Pompano Beach charges residents in the north end of town. That didn’t work when condo residents and hotel owners complained about being charged per unit when many were not occupied for much of the year.
Next Burton studied the rates and came up with a structure, but the rates put more of a burden on single-family homes. The study was redone, at commissioners’ request, resulting in the currently proposed rates. This time he calculated the actual water use by every commercial user in town.
“Now the data is so precise we don’t have grounds to change the methodology any more,” Brown said. “I’m comfortable with what we’re doing. The residents wanted a professional study, and now our rates are based on the amount of water they use” rather than meter size.
Brown agreed with a resident and hotel manager who questioned the large amount put aside in a reserve fund. “Certainly we need a reserve fund, but if we reach the point where we have $2 million in the fund, I would favor lowering fees and waiving the reserve,” Brown said.
He plans to meet with Pompano Beach officials regarding that city’s methodology in determining rates.
Sasser said he has voted against the new rates all along and did that again Tuesday. “There’s a difference in philosophy,” he said. “I’d rather charge less now. I want us to look at this again at budget time. I don’t think we need to put $1 million in reserves.”
Burton’s projections call for no change in rates next year but then 3.5 percent increases every year after that, Hoffmann said. The town budgets $50,000 for emergency repairs annually, but if that amount isn’t used it goes to fund balance. The fees will be analyzed each budget year, she said.
“We have vetted this. We’re here to make tough decisions,” Mayor Roseann Minnet said. With a rate structure based on water usage, she suggested it’s time for conservation to lower bills.
“We have gone above and beyond to achieve fair rates,” Commissioner Stuart Dodd said.
Some restaurant owners, faced with large increases in their bills, complained that not all the water they use for drinks or ice consumed by customers ends up in the sewer system.
The ordinance commissioners approved incorporates provisions of Fort Lauderdale’s Code of Ordinances that provide a mechanism to separately meter water that doesn’t enter the sewer system, such as water used for a cooling tower. Separate metering will allow the customer to have that water usage excluded for purposes of calculating their sewer bill. Customers interested in exploring that option need to submit an application to Fort Lauderdale for consideration.
The ordinance was modified to indicate that if the city of Fort Lauderdale isn’t able to implement the change in time for the January billing cycle, the change will be implemented in the February billing cycle.