Home News Vero Beach approves 15% water, sewer rate hikes to pay for new wastewater treatment plant

Vero Beach approves 15% water, sewer rate hikes to pay for new wastewater treatment plant

Vero Beach approves 15% water, sewer rate hikes to pay for new wastewater treatment plant

VERO BEACH — Water and sewer rates here will jump about 15% next year to pay for an $82 million wastewater-reclamation facility.

Starting January, water and sewer rates will be consolidated for all customers and jump from a combined $51 to about $59 for the average customer, who uses about 4,000 gallons of water a month. 

That will be followed by three additional rate hikes: 18% in October; 18% in October 2024; and 2% in October 2025. By that point, rates for that average user would be about $83 a month, according to a city study.

The City Council voted 4-1 to approve the plan, with Tracey Zudans in dissent.

“I had the same hesitancy of doing this,” said Mayor John Cotugno. “But I understand sometimes the unpopular decision of spending money and investing money in the future of your community has to be made.”

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Zudans pointed to other financial burdens on residents — the city’s new storm wspanter tspanx and its increspansed property-tspanx rspante, both of which were approved this year — as her reason for voting no.

“It’s a really big pill for our residents and users to swallow to ask them for a high rate increase of this rate right now,” she said. 

The wastewater-treatment plant is on the Indian River Lagoon, beside the city’s former electric plant — the site of the future Three Corners project. The plant, built in 1977, needed to be updated, so the city decided in 2019 to build a new one inland to reduce pollutants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from entering the lagoon.

“If we don’t relocate that wastewater plant off the lagoon, at any moment, we can have a large storm,” said Council member Linda Moore. “Every single one that occurs in Florida, there ends up being sewage dumped into some body of water somewhere.”

The new plant would be built on city airport property, about 2 miles off the lagoon. The city plans to pay for it entirely through these rate hikes.

Vero Beach’s rates will be consolidated, meaning all customers — including those outside the city limits, such as in Indian River Shores and the southern part of the barrier island — will pay a single base rate, according to the plan.  

But some of Indian River Shores’ utility obligations still are up in the air. In one of two utility-related lawsuits against the city, the town sued Vero Bespanch in 2020 over its reclaimed-water rates.

The issue is still being litigated, so the plan approved Tuesday will not affect Indian River Shores’ reclaimed-water rates.  

“We are addressing that by recommending that we maintain the same rate that we’ve been charging [Indian River Shores] until that matter is resolved,” said City Attorney John Turner. The lawsuit may be resolved in the next six to eight months, he said.

In September, former Mayor Robbie Brackett said the city would pursue grants to help offset the burden on taxpayers. Grants are still being pursued, said Water and Sewer Director Rob Bolton.

“We’ve submitted in for grants of $20 million dollars this year,” Bolton said. “We’ll see. We won’t know. So every time a grant opportunity comes available, we’ll submit in for it.”

Every $10 million in grant money would offset combined monthly water and sewer rates by about $3. 

Refurbishing the current plant would have cost about 75% as much as building an entirely new one, City Manager Monte Falls said. 

“There is no zero-cost option,” he said. 

The plan approved Tuesday is the first time Vero Beach has increased its wspanter rspante since 2010, according to the city study. 

The City Council will reevaluate water and sewer rates every summer through 2025.


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