Who Will Pay For Growth-Related Water Projects In Polk?

One of the unanswered questions in the discussion of efforts by the Polk Regional Water Cooperative to develop future water supplies to take care of the next half century of projected growth is how the costs will be allocated.
That is, will new customers whose demand will require the expansion of water supplies and associated infrastructure pay the cost of will their costs be subsidized by current customers whose demands are already being met by the current system?
On Wednesday, a new wrinkle in this discussion emerged in the form a consultant study that will also examine, among other things, the feasibility of imposing a special assessment on the county tax rolls.
The idea drew quick pushback from County Commission Chairman George Lindsey and Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz.
Lindsey said utilities are enterprise funds whose costs should be covered in their rate structures.
“There is a distinction between rate payers and taxpayers,” Lindsey said.
Mutz agreed, adding this approach could allow a decision to be made in a way that gives the general public little input.
He also questioned the escalating consultant fees for this study, which has already grown from $6,000 to $25,000 as the scope of work has increased, arguing this may only be the beginning.
The origin of the decision to pursue the study was also unclear during Wednesday’s discussion.
The issue will be discussed further at the next cooperative meeting in September.
Any special assessment, utility fee increase or other revenue source is part of the PRWC’s contribution to the cost of planning, permitting, constructing and operating a countywide water-supply system envisioned by its consultants.
The cost will total hundreds of millions of dollars–the exact cost is developing as the project advances–and will be shared by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Polk officials have also lobbied for state and federal funds.