High Springs passes preliminary vote to increase water, sewer rates  

High Springs City Hall and sign
Photo by Seth Johnson

The High Springs City Commission voted 4-0 to increase water and sewer rates by the consumer price index (5.7%) at a Tuesday evening meeting along with a larger increase to solid waste rates. 

The commission will still need to pass a final vote in December to make the changes official, and the commissioners also plan to hold a January workshop to discuss utility rates again. The Tuesday decision comes as the City Commission faces a financial crunch.  

Currently, the city loses money each month with the solid waste rates after switching to a new provider, Waste Pro, in May. Water and sewer rates have sat below rates recommended by the Florida Rural Water Association for several years. 

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The 5.7% increase for water and sewer won’t be enough to pay for costs through the entire fiscal year, but financial director Diane Wilson said it’s a start until the commission has more time to analyze and approve the 14.6% increase recommended by staff.  

For solid waste, the commission grudgingly voted to increase rates so that the customer pays exactly the price charged by Waste Pro. The exact increase depends on the size dumpster and how many times it is picked up weekly. 

Commissioner Steve Tapanes, who joined the commission earlier this month, made the motions for all three utility increases. Commissioner Byran Williams was absent from the meeting. 

For the solid waste portion, the City Commission received clarification on how the contract with Waste Pro was approved and what the contract stipulated.  

The contract negotiated by the city and Waste Pro showed increased rates compared to the previous service provider. However, the city didn’t increase the rates it charges customers, and the City Commissioners didn’t realize there was a discrepancy until recently.  

At the previous meeting, Wilson said the city had run through all reserves for solid waste by charging customers less than it paid to Waste Pro—costing the city $350,000 more than expected.  

Commissioners said the service from Waste Pro had been excellent to date and noted that the fault came from miscommunication within the city.  

Commissioner Tristan Grunder said the miscommunication and not realizing the terms of the three-year contract with Waste Pro will hang like a “dark cloud” over the commission until resolved.  

“We had a problem. It was an information problem, and that was from our people inside to us,” Grunder said. “And unfortunately, the citizens are going to ride this on their backs with us.”    

On Tuesday, Wilson reiterated that the city has little room to wait before making rate increases because all three service funds (water, sewer and solid waste) have no reserves.  

The City Commission has wanted to see the impact of the new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). The new AMI meters are currently being installed and will allow the city to crack down on leaks and change broken meters. The new infrastructure, which sends daily water usage to the city and customer, will increase city revenue.  

Wilson said her department included conservative estimates on the impact of AMI when it made the rate recommendations.  

Wilson also told the commission that if AMI brings in much higher revenues or the solid waste contract gets amended, the City Commission can then vote to lower rates as desired.  

Tapanes said he’d push to reduce rates later if possible and added that he wasn’t happy about the increases. However, he said the rate increases were needed to keep the city running.  

If the commission approves the water increase that staff recommended, the rates will increase by $4.55 for the average 5,000-gallon bill to $31 a month—for both residential and commercial users. That monthly average bill stands $7.80 over Gainesville residents, $6.89 over city of Alachua residents and $6.88 over Newberry residents.  

If the commission approves the residential sewer increase that staff recommended, the residential rates will increase by $4 for 5,000 gallons to a monthly bill of $45.67. That monthly average bill stands $1.58 less than Gainesville residents, $0.45 more than city of Alachua residents and $2.67 more than Newberry residents.  

If the commission approves the commercial sewer increase that staff recommended, the commercial rates will increase by $5 for a 5,000 gallons for a monthly bill of $59.20. That monthly average bill stands $11.95 over Gainesville users, $1.18 over city of Alachua users and $4.33 over Newberry users.  

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