Key West: no sewer price hike

BY JENNIFER BABSON

KEY WEST -- Local streets may be clogged with the detritus of the city's seemingly never-ending, $60 million super sewer project -- but there is some good news.

Residents and businesses will probably not have to face another sewer rate increase next year, after swallowing a substantial rate hike in 1999-2000 to underwrite water-treatment improvements.

``There will be no rate increase. In fact, there will be a slight decrease for some commercial customers because of an increase in water consumption by residential units,'' said David Fernandez, Key West's utilities director.

City commissioners were scheduled to consider next year's sewer rates Tuesday night at a budget workshop.

The city's 14,989 residential and business customers are charged one or more base fees of $22.09 a month, plus a ``commodity charge'' of $3.97 for each thousand gallons of wastewater they produce.

This year, the city is expected to readjust how it levies base rates for businesses, a formula change that would result in lower commercial costs, Fernandez said.

The monthly base rate increased this year from $17.94 in 1998-99.

Solid waste fees, also under review for next year's budget, are slated to remain the same. Residential units are charged an average of $270 a year, while commercial establishments are levied $140 for each ton of solid waste they produce.

The bulk of the city's sewer upgrade project is scheduled for completion next spring, Fernandez said.

Still in progress, however, will be a lateral testing program not expected to finish until sometime in 2002. Utility employees have already started conducting checks to gauge whether lateral pipes connecting homes and businesses to the city's main sewer system are working effectively.

So far, Fernandez said, about 60 percent of the 3,383 pipes tested have leaked or otherwise malfunctioned.

The city is requiring individual property owners to replace those pipes, at a cost of between $2,000 and $10,000 each.