110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
posted Dec 20, 2013 - 3:13:29pm
Eighty-five residents of Country Villages in Orange City stormed a City Council workshop Dec. 10 to find out why their water and sewage bills went up by more than 50 percent beginning in July.
According to Jim Barker, a resident of Country Villages and spokesman for the group, most of the residents of the manufactured-home community are retired and living on fixed incomes. They can’t afford to pay 50 percent more for water, he said.
Contacted earlier by Barker, the City Council agreed to hold the workshop meeting Dec. 10. While waiting for the workshop, Barker collected 295 signatures on a petition protesting the rate hike, which he circulated among Country Village’s 416 homes.
“All we want is a fair shake from the city,” Barker said.
When the meeting started, Barker was granted 30 minutes to present the residents’ case. Because the meeting was a workshop, not a regular meeting, the City Council would not make any decisions, and would not conduct a question-and-answer session, city officials said.
Barker began by questioning why residents were subject to such an exorbitant rate increase and asked who suggested it.
He said French and University avenues have not been repaired or updated since the 1970s, but, at the same time the rate increase took place, the Orange City Council voted to spend $85,000 to put restrooms in the dog park.
“This is an outrageous increase,” Barker said. “You have no moral, legitimate or any reason to raise our water or sewer rates. You have created a severe hardship on many residents and no excuse will be accepted.”
Barker also objects to the city’s method of calculating water use, by 1,000-gallon units, so that a resident who uses 1,001 gallons is charged for 2,000 gallons.
So, what was Orange City’s response to its citizens?
Orange City Manager Jamie Croteau first said that planning the increase had been a long process. She pointed out that a study of Orange City’s wastewater and reclaimed-water charges had been done in 2012 by Public Resources Management Group Inc. from Maitland.
Croteau said that study uncovered several different rates being charged across the community, and found some residents were paying less for water and sewage than others. Country Villages was one of those locations paying an extremely low rate, Croteau said.
She said the rate increase was also due to extensive repairs needed to the city’s water and sewage pipes. According to Interim Public Works Director Ken Hooper, the city is going to need to spend $11.2 million over the next five years to repair the system.
Hooper said it has been a long time since anything has been done to repair or upgrade the city’s utility system.
According to Croteau, residents were notified of all proceedings where the increases were discussed, and were given an opportunity to present their objections.
Notices were sent out in April with utility bills, she said, and a special workshop was held April 9. Another notice was sent out in May, with another workshop on May 28. The matter was discussed and voted on at the City Council’s May 28 regular meeting. Council Member Tom Abraham spoke against the rate increase, but it was approved by a 6-1 vote, she said.
Orange City’s rates for water usage, adopted in June 2013, are $3.33 per 1,000 gallons for consumption between 1,000 and 7,000 gallons, and $5 per 1,000 gallons for usage between 7,001 and 12,000 gallons. As required by the St. Johns River Water Management District, the rate escalates upward for higher usage, to $7.23 per 1,000 gallons when more than 20,000 gallons are used in a month.
Additionally, customers pay a base rate, that went up in June from $9 to $19.
Interim Public Works and Utility Director Ken Hooper told The Beacon he understood that the increases were a shock to Country Village, but that the new rates are in the lowest third in a comparison of rates charged by other cities in Volusia County, and by the county.
Country Village residents, Hooper said, had been paying less for sewage services than Orange City had to pay Volusia County to have the sewage treated at the county’s regional plant.
“Country Village was being subsidized by other customers in Orange City,” Hooper said.
Barker wasn’t satisfied with the explanations. He said Orange City Council members hadn’t really listened to the residents’ concerns.
“It’s not over by a long shot,” Barker said after the workshop. “We want them to reduce the water rates to what rates were in April 2013. We don’t accept any of the reasons they gave for the raise.”
Barker said he plans to attend the regular Orange City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, and to bring as many residents with him as he can.
Orange City typically allows members of the public to speak for three minutes each during regular City Council meetings, which are open to the public.
The comments posted below are posted by readers, not by The Beacon staff. These comments express the views and opinions of the authors, and not the administrators, moderators or webmaster. The comments forum is governed by these rules. Please use the report abuse link if you find offensive comments.
Did you find this story interesting or informative? Subscribe to The West Volusia Beacon to read more stories by Charlene Cooper, along with others from our award-winning writers. Subscribe now!