Briny Breezes: Water rates up, but effect on residents delayed

By Margie Plunkett

Water rates won’t go up before this fiscal year is out — but that’s only because Briny Breezes absorbed the costs of a steep increase from Boynton Beach. Residents might want to brace themselves for times to come. “We’re trying to deal with it this year,” said Mayor Roger Bennett. “An increase would come next year.” Water provider Boynton Beach boosted rates 49 percent — 60 percent including the utility fee — to Briny Breezes effective May 1, Bennett said. Even though Briny Breezes usage went down 600,000 gallons in May as summer kicked in, the monthly bill nearly doubled to $7,000 compared with May 2008, he said. The added water costs spill over into Briny Breezes’ tight budget, one which compares favorably to other municipalities but is still subject to recessionary revenue and expense pressures.
“We’re not going to have enough in the budget to cover all of it,” Town Clerk and Alderman Kathy Bray said at Briny Breezes’ May 28 meeting. “We’ll have to cut other areas.”
Resident and Gulf Stream Town Clerk Rita Taylor noted, “Everybody’s rates are going up. There should be no problem to increase the monthly bill to the corporation. It always pays to budget ahead with utilities, because you never know when this comes up.”
Briny Breezes Inc. Board Member Don Faron, who attended the meeting, said, chuckling, “Let it be on the record that the corporation doesn’t have any money to pay for the increases.” When the town decides it needs to pass the increase on to the corporation, he said, keep in mind it’ll take three to four weeks minimum to approve a special assessment and get it to residents.
Other towns and the county have already raised water and other fees for residents. In Lantana, for instance, the minimum monthly water rate rose to $19.06 from $18.15 in June. Palm Beach County hiked water prices in April, including an 11.75 percent increase for drinking water and wastewater, which replaced a 15 percent surcharge imposed last year, the county’s Web site said.
Boynton Beach voted 3-2 at its April 21 meeting to raise water rates to its customers, a move that will generate $4.27 million for the rest of this fiscal year and $8.6 million next, according to the meeting minutes. The base cost of water was boosted to $10.77 from $4.84 for its residents. Combining base rates and fees adjusted for usage, a 5,000-gallon-a-month user would pay $49.82 under the new rates, up from $37.27 previously, according to Boynton Beach.
As non-residents of Boynton Beach, Briny Breezes pays more than residents. Anyone outside of the city pays a 25 percent surcharge — except for Ocean Ridge, said Peter Mazzella, deputy utilities director of Boynton Beach.
Ocean Ridge, the only outsider that owns its water system, is responsible for maintenance and replacement costs, he said, while Briny Breezes and other outsiders are not. Ocean Ridge retained the rights to the water mains when it became a separate city from Boynton Beach in 1931, Mazzella said.
Boynton Beach’s higher water tab was due to water restrictions set by the South Florida Water Management District, the economy’s effects on residential and commercial development and a rise in the cost of materials for water treatment, according to the city’s Web site. And prices could have gone higher had the city’s utilities department not postponed about 20 percent of its capital improvement program.
Despite the increase, Boynton Beach’s water still costs less than in Lake Worth or Delray Beach, the site said.

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