Pensacola, Florida
Sunday August 19th 2018

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ECUA Raising Rates

Proposed Ten Percent Hike Comes With Controversy
by SEAN BOONE

Despite a packed room of public opposition, the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority Board approved at its Sept. 23 meeting a motion to increase rates for its customers. On Oct. 1, sewer and water rates will jump 8 percent and will do so again for each of the next three years. Sanitation will be raised 2 percent for the next fiscal year

More than 50 people attended the meeting to show their displeasure with the rate hikes. Those who spoke on the issue said they were living on a fixed income; struggling to get by in the current economic climate.

“I just don’t see how you could raise anything at this time,” said Francis King, a retired Pensacola resident.

Pensacola City Councilwoman Diane Mack said she fully understood the responsibility of the decision but asked the board to postpone the increase for a year and evaluate other local utility rates.

“When you make recommendation, make sure rates are based on neighboring areas.”

Despite a 3-2 vote from the board to increase rates, members took note of the outcries. After hearing more than 15 residents and officials on the issue, a motion was made to reduce the original rate increase proposal, which called for a 34 percent increase to water and sewer and a 3 percent increase for sanitation. Board members decided to nix more than $770,000 in employee raises to reach that mark.

Board member Larry Walker said the rate increase decision was the “worst policy decision” he had been forced to make during his 20-plus years representing District 5 and eluded to the fact that ECUA has held rates down for more than a decade—including the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan in 2004; a storm that caused considerable damage to infrastructure.

Walker told the audience that sewage overflow had increased 45 percent in the past few years, creating numerous backups in homes and water outages.

“Now we’ve come to a point where the needs for the public are such that I don’t think we can deny them,” said Walker.

According to a year-long report from the Malcolm Pirnie Inc., engineering and consulting firm commissioned by the ECUA, the utility needs extensive infrastructure repairs and replacements in the next six years to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.

Walker referenced a $1 billion order that the EPA slapped on the city of Birmingham to upgrade its sewage system as a cause for concern for the board.

“They could come down on us with a $160 million order in three years,” he said.

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