State Rep. Bob Cortes is speaking out about a rate hike approved by the Public Service Commission last week.

The Altamont Springs Republican believes the hike will double water and sewer rates for western Seminole County residents.

“This decision, which doubles rates for western Seminole residents, demonstrates that the Public Service Commission is not standing on the side of consumers,” Cortes said of the decision the commission made Aug. 3. “Without a compelling case from Utilities Inc. and despite a public hearing where citizens expressed their concerns, the PSC moved ahead with a decision that would clearly impose an unfair burden, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.”

The commission approved the new rate structure and some other issues for Utilities, Inc. of Florida, in a long-standing rate case that is complex because the company owned several water and sewer utilities around the state and brought in a comprehensive proposal.

A commission spokeswoman said Tuesday the commission staff has not yet worked out what the new rates would be, and that information would not be available until late this week at the earliest. She provided a list of Utilities, Inc. of Florida’s current rates for its 17 systems in Florida, three in Seminole, which show the Seminole rates currently are in the midrange of what the company charges.

Cortes said there are more than 10,000 Utilities, Inc. of Florida customer households and businesses in Seminole County.

Part of the case and the petition for increases involved quality of service problems for Utilities, Inc. of Florida at some of its local utilities, and the commission cited several as being low quality. The company sought rate increases to cover capital investment in its petition to upgrade aging infrastructure and to replace aging water main piping for systems in Seminole, Orange, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

While approving the package and the rate increases last week, the commission reduced the quality of service rating from satisfactory to marginal for six of the company’s systems,

Cortes and other lawmakers from the service areas — including state Rep. Scott Plakon and state Sen. David Simmons from Seminole — had argued against the rate increases at public hearings earlier this year and in correspondence. Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine also was active in opposing the Seminole rate increase.

Cortes said he is not done. He said he is following up with a letter to the commission rebuking it for failing to follow the policy positions expressed by the Florida Legislature to ease burdens on consumers.

“They have a valid point they need upgrades, but the way they are doing it is an outrage,” Cortes said.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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