Utilities, Inc. approved for new rates for water service

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, August 03, 2017, 9:52 PM EDT

The Florida Public Service Commission on Thursday approved new -- and, in some cases, higher -- rates for customers of Utilities, Inc., but not before putting the company on notice that its water service in many areas needs dramatic improvements.

  • New rates approved for Utilities, Inc. water service
  • Runs water services for customers in 10 Florida counties
  • Many complaining about marginal services

Utilities, Inc. serves tens of thousands of households in 10 Florida counties, many of which line the I-4 corridor.

  • Charlotte
  • Highlands
  • Lake
  • Lee
  • Marion
  • Orange
  • Pasco
  • Pinellas
  • Polk
  • Seminole

While rates could decline for some customers, others could see their monthly bills double as a result of Thursday's vote.

The PSC's decision followed nine public hearings in which more than 200 Utilities, Inc. customers voiced their outrage about what they said was contaminated water flowing to their homes.

Residents of the Pasco County community of Summertree were particularly vocal, and some traveled to Tallahassee for the vote.

"There are many people with cancers throughout our community, and we're concerned that your autoimmune system, if you are given these carcinogens that are in the water -- plus there are many bacteria that the DEP doesn't require any testing for or removal of -- that over time these chronic things become acute," said Ann Marie Ryan, who leads the Summertree Water Alliance, a group of concerned homeowners.

Ryan noted the community had been prodding Utilities, Inc. to overhaul its water system for more than two decades, to no avail. The company is now undergoing a corporate reorganization, which prompted its rate adjustment request.

But it won't be able to pocket as much of the revenue stemming from the higher rates as it had expected. Under an arrangement approved by the PSC Thursday, the company's return on investment margins will be reduced in what amounts to a penalty for the "marginal" service of many of its water systems.

"The number of complaints for this system is outrageous," said Public Service Commission Chair Julie Brown, referring to Utilities, Inc.'s Summertree operation. "I do want to send a signal to the utility that this is not acceptable and that the utility needs to address the customer concerns in this system."

Utilities, Inc. executives have told the commission the company plans to make significant upgrades to its water service infrastructure, using proceeds from the rate increases to pay for them.