Government

ECUA proposes rate increase

Utility staff says flood cleanup, Rolling Hills closure depleted reserves

Photo credit: Shannon Nickinson

ECUA sanitation customers could see a rate increase next year.

Staff at the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority say the 9.5 percent proposed rate increase for sanitation service only amounts to $1.84 more a month — bringing the sanitation charge to $19.46 a month.

By way of comparison, the City of Pensacola charges about $22 per month for trash collection.

The increase would go to bolster the utility’s reserve funds, which were drained by a couple of instances, says Randy Rudd, executive director of shared services for the utility.

— “A big part of that is some of the issues with Rolling Hills and costs incurred in the last year,” Rudd says.

ECUA stopped taking vegetative debris to Rolling Hills and is taking it to the county owned Perdido Landfill. The landfill charges $27.69 per ton; Rudd says Rolling Hills charged $10 or $11 per ton.

On May 15, county officials closed the landfill to new debris based on conditions county environmental personnel found at the landfill that violated a special magistrate’s order to the owners to address code provisions.

In April the county fined the landfill owners for violating the magistrate’s final order. The landfill began as a small borrow pit, but grew into a larger facility over time that came into conflict with the neighbors and faced numerous financial woes.

— Another is in October 2013, Rudd says, is that ECUA had to clean up West Florida Recycling to keep them operating. That was $400,000. “If they closed,” he said “we’d have had to take it to the landfill and that would have cost us $500,000.”

— Also $500,000 in cleanup from the April flood.

— $400,000 to buy some equipment and start up costs related to trucking recyclables to Montgomery, where they are processed under a two-year contract with Infinitus Energy.

Auditors suggest maintaining reserves of $1 million; Rudd says the ECUA’s reserves are at essentially zero.

Projects such as a composting facility now under construction at ECUA’s central Escambia County wastewater treatment facility, and plans to partner with the county to build a recycling facility at the Perdido Landfill will help, over time, reduce disposal costs for the utility.

That could lead to either a rollback of this increase, Rudd says, or a delay in future, larger rate increases.

“If we can work this out, at some point in the future, we would see a savings in disposal,” he said. “Whatever we can do to lower (disposal costs) is what we’ve been working on for several years. It just takes time.”

Here is a look at ECUA’s rates over time:

The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority's rates over time.

The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority’s rates over time.