Sarasota News Leader

06/13/2014

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wastewater mains in the 2016-17 fiscal year will be reduced, saving $5 million. Tidwell told the commissioners he has had preliminary talks with Florida Power & Light (FPL) about installing solar cells on city util- ity property to cut power bills. He said FPL "is interested in evaluating [that proposal]." The Utilities Department writes off about $250,000 in bad debt every year. Right now customers' utility deposits are returned after one year of on-time payments. "Do we want to retain the deposits until the account is closed?" Tidwell asked. "Maybe we should ask for higher deposits." Slow payment of bills is costing the city $300,000. "Five days before a [customer] shut- off, we have an employee hang a red tag," said Tidwell. "We're going to 14,000 houses each year. That's how many red tags we hang a year." MONEY USED UP The $20 million the city received from the sale of the spray fields used for discharge of wastewater was set aside for utility upgrades. Tidwell pointed out that that money is gone, with $15 million spent on projects and $5 mil- lion put into reserves. Thus, any future efforts to maintain and improve utility services — without borrow- ing or bonding — will require rate increases, Tidwell said. "I'm looking to keep the rate increase to a manageable number." A slide presented to the commissioners showed current water and sewer rates from cities along the Florida Gulf Coast. A Palmetto resident using 4,000 gallons per month pays about $50, while Cape Coral and Fort Myers residents pay $90 per month on average. A Sarasota County customer pays approxi- mately $69, while a Sarasota city resident is paying roughly $71. One major unknown for Tidwell — and the board — is the final cost of the Lift Station 87 project. The contractor is preparing an estimate for the piping project; the design engineer is still developing the plans for the actual lift station itself. % The City Commission has been asked to hold a public hearing on utility bill increases. Photo by Norman Schimmel Sarasota News Leader June 13, 2014 Page 30

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