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Why Vero Beach City Council approved enormous rate hike on monthly water and sewer bill

Wastewater at the Vero Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant in Vero Beach, Florida. (WPEC)
Wastewater at the Vero Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant in Vero Beach, Florida. (WPEC)
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The Vero Beach City Council approved significant increases in water and sewer rates over the next few years.

A homeowner who pays around $50 a month right now - will be paying almost $90 dollars by this time in 2025.

CBS12 News asked city officials why they approved almost doubling those rates at a time when many people are struggling with inflation and the high cost of living.

The main reason for the hike is to pay for a new, $80 million wastewater treatment plant, set to open near the airport in 2026. The current sewage plant, located at Three Corners, needs to be replaced – and moved away from the lagoon and the Three Corners Project.

Vero Beach’s Water and Sewer Director Rob Bolton admits the new rate increases are going to hit everybody’s wallet - but he adds there hasn’t been an increase since 2010, and the money is needed to modernize and maintain critical infrastructure in a growing community.

“To construct an $82 million project, you can’t do that with the current rates that we have," Bolton stated. "Our current budget is roughly $20 million. We don’t have $80 million sitting in the bank."

City Manager Monte Falls says the budget can’t continue to prop up the utility that is solely funded by user fees and not tax dollars.

“We currently aren’t bringing in enough revenue with the current rates to cover the existing cost so we’ve been eating into our cash reserves over the last couple years and this rate increase will stop that," he said.

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Falls says the city is looking to state and federal programs to help pay for the new wastewater plant - but it likely won’t make much difference for ratepayers.

“For every $10 million that we cut off the price it would save about $3 in the monthly bill,” Falls shared.

Renovating the existing treatment facility could save as much as $20 million – but Bolton says seasonal flooding still poses too great a risk to the Indian River Lagoon.

“You still would have the liability of being so close to the lagoon, and the chance of a spill," he said. "That goes away with the construction of a new facility up on higher ground.”

The city manager tells CBS12 News if bids come in significantly lower than the projected $82 million price tag - or they are able to secure more grant money - that the city will review these extraordinary rate increases.

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