More than 900 Aqua Utilities customers in Pasco County have petitioned the state to allow the county to take over their water and sewer systems.
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he and state Rep. Will Weatherford personally delivered the petitions to the state Public Service Commission on Monday. The PSC is scheduled to hear Aqua Utilities' latest rate case May 24.
Aqua Utilities serves about 3,200 customers in three Pasco communities and already has the highest water and sewer rates in the county. The privately owned utility charges a $50 facility fee that is 237-percent higher than Pasco County. In Jasmine Lakes, customers water bills are triple those in the county.
If the company's rate hike goes through, even modest water users would be charged more than $100 a month. A typical family who uses 5,000 gallons of water a month would have to pay $136.
The petition asks the PSC commissioners to deny Aqua's request for its second rate hike in the past three years. Fasano said both he and Weatherford would attend the hearing, along with hundreds of Aqua customers who will travel to Tallahassee by bus.
"They did an outstanding job in rallying the residents in opposition to this outrageous rate request," Fasano said. "I will be speaking in support of the customers."
Pasco County Commissioners succeeded in forcing the private Aloha Utility to sell its interests to the county, but they have been unsuccessful in attempts to force a similar buyout with Aqua Utilities. The petition also states that it would be in the best interest of everybody if Aqua negotiated a sale to Pasco County.
"I absolutely agree," Fasano said.
The PSC approved a rate increase for Aqua Utilities in 2009, but the company applied for another increase a year later. In the application, Aqua executives said they need the rate increase to pay for $12 million in capital improvements.
They also justified the increase by saying their customers reduced their water consumption after the last rate hike, which cut into their revenues. The company serves 117,000 customers statewide but earned a profit of just $176,000 in 2010.