Commissioners should nix water, sewer rate hikes
Hernando TodayThe issue: The county's proposal to drastically hike water and sewer rates.
Published: May 15, 2009
Published: May 15, 2009
Our opinion: They've got to be kidding.
Apparently, county officials think it's business as usual on the hill in Brooksville, with no end to tax hikes and fee increases.
Nevermind that nearly 13 percent of the workforce is unemployed, the economy is in the Dumpster and the county suffers from one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.
Here's news to those who live in a bubble: Hernando Countians are hurting.
On top of wanting to nearly double annual solid waste assessments, county officials now want to increase water and sewer rates by more than 30 percent during the next five years for the average homeowner.
You can almost hear the county's coffers chime cha-ching!
The director of the county's utilities department presented the proposed rate increases to county commissioners during their meeting Tuesday. He lined it all out in a bunch of charts and graphs, trying to spin it as a conservation measure. Bigger water users (commercial businesses that employ people) are really going to get the shaft. Those using less water will see lower increases. (Like jumbo shrimp, isn't that an oxymoron?)
Our question: Are county officials living in La-La Land?
This isn't simply a conservation measure; it's another money grab to fund bigger government and expand development at a time when nobody's building. The rate increases are expected to add about $1.6 million in new revenue for the utilities department, with the money raised going to help fund about $150 million in capital projects. The rest of the money will come from low-interest federal government bailout loans.
Plans are to pay for a $48 million expansion to the wastewater treatment plant near the Hernando County Airport; $26 million for a new treatment plant in Ridge Manor; and $22 million for a new treatment plant at The Glen, off U.S. 19 north of State Road 50.
Maybe somebody needs to inform county officials - once again - that we're in the depths of one of the deepest recessions and housing busts in Hernando County history - a double whammy. The decline of commercial construction and the loss of more jobs isn't far behind.
However, all we keep hearing from county officials is they want to raise taxes and fees and spend more of the taxpayers' hard-earned money.
Here's a clue: Most Hernando County residents can't afford to pay what they're paying now. Any increase in solid waste assessments or water and sewer rates would be a slap in the face, and residents should take it personally - especially those having trouble putting food on the table.
Any county commissioner who votes to increase taxes and fees in this desperate economy needs to understand the ramifications, especially considering the spending spree county officials have been on the past few years when money flowed like wine into county coffers - so much so, they couldn't find enough perks and new projects to spend it on fast enough.
Perhaps that's why the county's treasure chest is bulging with $181 million in long-term investments - some tied up as many as five years - and more than $37.6 million in carry-over funds from fiscal year 2008.
Let them spend what they've already over-taxed residents for on these new projects.
And what about all the impact fee money that's been collected from the massive development of recent years? Isn't that why there's $181 million lying around earning interest? Use that money to help fund capital projects for infrastructure. Isn't that what it's for?
Why should current water and sewer customers who've paid their impact fees and bills have to pay for continued construction of new and expanded water and sewer plants?
Until people start standing up and letting their county commissioners know how they feel about unfair tax hikes and user fee increases, they'll keep approving them. Here's how you can contact them to give them a piece of your opinion:
• Phone - 754-4002 and ask for the particular commissioner.
• E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who knows, if enough folks let them know how they feel, maybe commissioners will listen.