ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — In less than a month, Pluris Water and Wastewater treatment customers in Wedgefield could notice double-digit increases in their water bills.
The Florida Public Service Commission approved rate hikes for water and wastewater services on Tuesday, and customers are now preparing to feel the pinch.
The commission voted unanimously to approve a 25.16% increase for water and a 23.10% increase for wastewater.
That’s about half of what Pluris had initially requested for their interim rates.
The Public Service Commission still needs to decide on final rates, but the commission has not set a date for that decision.
According to a spokesperson for the Public Service Commission, Pluris must notify customers of the rate change, and the new rates can be effective 30 days after the commission’s vote.
The private utility company services approximately 1,800 parcels in North Wedgefield, and people there have voiced concerns about Pluris water for years.
It’s led Orange County to consider purchasing Pluris for $30 million.
A community group has now mobilized to try and rally support for the county purchase.
Pluris customer Sheila Mayhew is one of the community advocates leading the charge. Her water bill already averages more than 95 dollars a month for her two-person household.
“I just feel like it’s an injustice to us. We’re already paying outrageous prices,” said Mayhew.
Mayhew is a retired teacher and one of the many Pluris customers who said the newly approved rate increase would be a tough adjustment.
“Everything’s increased, and our income has not,” added retired Wedgefield resident Richard Shaw.
A September report to Orange County Commissioners showed that the average Pluris customer had already paid nearly double that of Orange County Utility customers.
But Pluris said the interim rate increases were needed because their costs have risen, and the company hasn’t had a full rate increase in over a decade.
Aside from costs, some Pluris customers have also expressed concerns about water quality.
They’ve complained of an odd taste and have said the water stains their appliances, dishes and clothes.
“I don’t trust the water. And I quite honestly don’t trust Pluris,” said Pluris Customer Philip Unser.
According to Pluris and the State, Pluris water is safe to drink.
A 2022 annual drinking water quality report showed Pluris drinking water met all federal and state requirements, despite a $3.3 million settlement the company paid out over alleged contaminated drinking water.
Unser, Mayhew, and others are now trying to rally their neighbors to support an Orange County takeover of the facility.
“We’re getting more and more support as time goes on because people are getting tired of the high water bills,” said Mayhew.
In September, Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners agreed to move forward with Phase 3 of a possible purchase. That phase includes spending $83,000 on an assessment of possible defects of the 1963 facility.
Commissioners stated the county would not move beyond Phase 3 unless a majority of Pluris customers were on board since some of the costs would likely be passed onto Wedgefield residents.
Residents, including Tom Meimary, said a county purchase is the only way forward. He doesn’t mind having to bear some of the cost burden.
“Please, God, listen to our prayers,” Meimary said. “You know we need Orange County to take over.”
As of Friday, Orange County said they had completed their on-site inspections, but appraisal work was continuing.
The inspection findings will be presented to county commissioners in the spring of 2024 to discuss next steps.
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