ZEPHYRHILLS — Water rates for customers in Zephyrhills will be on the rise starting next month.
The Zephyrhills City Council wrapped a year of studies and public hearings Monday with a unanimous vote to enact increases over the next five years.
Water users of fewer than 3,000 gallons a month — the vast majority of the city — will see their water and sewer bills rise from $40.03 to $55.84 over five years. It will mean a 7.8 percent increase this year, followed by increases of 6.9 percent, 6.8 percent, 6.5 percent and 6.5 percent.
The increase is smaller than recommended by an initial study that said the city should increase water and sewer bills an average of 8 percent annually during the five-year span. The savings came from an agreement Zephyrhills made last month with Nestle Waters, in which the company will pay $625,000 for infrastructure improvements after a billing error by the city.
Revenue from rate hikes will help complete $25 million in upgrades to the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure over the next five years. City Manager Steve Spina said upkeep and improvements to the city’s water system are essential.
"It’s vital. I mean this is a health and safety issue," Spina said.
Even with the increases, the council told a small crowd of residents who came to the hearing, Zephyrhills rates will be far lower than rates in unincorporated Pasco County and other local cities.
City Council member Lance Smith and his colleagues agreed that no one likes to pay more, but said the increases are needed to maintain a viable system that will generate clean water.
"I think we just need to pay our way as we go," he said.
The vote came after the council received an earful in November from residents angry over the proposed increase and postponed the final vote.
During the hearing Monday, opposition was muted. A couple of speakers said the increases will be hard on seniors with fixed incomes. Resident Devin Alexander praised the city for being proactive in seeking infrastructure upgrades, but questioned last-minute noticing of the last planned hearing. City Manager Steve Spina agreed with Alexander that the city should have communicated better about the November hearing.
"We dropped the ball, and I apologize for that," Spina said.