The Amy H Remley Foundation  

September 20, 2009

Safe Drinking Water and Wastewater Disposal are Cornerstones of Civilization

by Cheryl Phillips, Chairwoman of the Water and Wastewater Authority, Past Chair of Citrus 20/20, Inc.
as published in the Citrus County Chronicle, Sunday, September 20, 2009.

Without water, there is no life. Water is so important to sustain life that scientists use that criterion as a basis to prove that life exists anywhere else in the universe. They continually search for any signs of water in any form on the moon, on the planet Mars and anywhere that they can technologically extend their reaches to locate other forms of life besides those on earth.

Throughout mankind's history, the delivery of safe drinking water and the disposal of wastewater has been one of the foundations for a successful civilization. Even in those early days, corruption and greed proliferated among the water utilities and government officials who took advantage of this basic need for human life and arbitrarily charged whatever rates they wanted or denied citizens access to clean water.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the United States government finally acknowledged the benefits of regulating utilities that would protect both the consumer and the utility. Regulation would allow utilities to raise money more easily in the form of stocks and bonds since investors knew that the regulators oversaw the financial accounts of the utility making their investments not as speculative as those in unregulated businesses. Also, regulation helped guarantee the financial integrity of the utilities. Thus, investors would be assured a safe and secure return on utility stocks and bonds. And citizens, in turn, would be assured the access of safe drinking water at a fair rate.

In 1887, the State of Florida created the Public Service Commission (PSC) to regulate the railroad industry. The Legislature then abolished the PSC in 1891, but reestablished it in 1897. Since then, the PSC established regulatory authority to the Telephone and Telegraph industry in 1911, the Motor Carrier Transportation in 1929, Investor-Owned Electrics in 1951, Natural Gas in 1952, Water and Wastewater in 1959, and the Airline in 1972.

Ten years ago, the State of Florida gave each county the option of either retaining the regulation of its private water and wastewater utilities in the unincorporated areas with the state's PSC, or opting out to regulate utilities at the local level. Realizing that the interests of Citrus County residents would be better served if certain privately owned water and wastewater utilities were overseen at the local level, the Citrus County Commission, on August 24, 1999, rescinded the PSC's power and jurisdiction and created the Citrus County Water and Wastewater Authority.

The basic purpose of the Water and Wastewater Authority (the Authority) is ensure that customers of the utility are receiving safe drinking water, good customer service and paying a fair rate. In turn, the Authority also ensures that the utility is providing safe drinking water, good customer service and is making a fair return. The utility's allowable return is determined by the PSC on an annual basis.

The Authority is comprised of 5 members and 1 alternate. Three of the 5 members must be technical members with a background in water and wastewater engineering, executive experience in utility oversight, or executive business management. The other two members are lay members from the county that demonstrate civic pride and integrity. All are appointed by the BOCC for a term of 8 years.

The current Authority members are Chairwoman Cheryl Phillips, Vice Chair Bob Hnat, Gloria Fisher, Harry Kilgore, Michael Whetstone, and alternate Matthew Warner. The two staff members of the Authority are Charles Howard, the Operations Director of the Office of Utility Regulation, and Amy Palmieri, Administrative Secretary. They can be reached at (352) 527-5452.

Currently, the utilities that the Authority regulates are Aqua Utilities Florida, Inc., Cinnamon Ridge Utilities, Inc., Dunnellon Hills Water System, Forest Hills Water System, Indian Springs Utilities, Inc., Meadow Wood Water System, Meadows Utility Company, Inc., Rolling Oaks Utilities, Inc., Sunshine Utilities of Central Florida, Inc., Tarawood Utilities and WellAqua Company.

There are three ways that a private utility may become regulated: 1) the utility owner may petition the Authority, 2) more than 50% of the utility's customer base petitions the Authority, or 3) there is a demonstrated public interest, e.g., health concerns, public safety and discrimination against the customer base.

All of the Authority's proceedings is conducted under the Florida Sunshine and adhere to the “Citrus County Water and Wastewater Utilities Regulatory Ordinance”. Further, the Authority diligently attempts to promote just, speedy, and an inexpensive determination of each issue.

The most recent issues include the assistance of the Meadows Utility Company's rate case, the Rolling Oaks Utilities, Inc.'s rate case, and the Aqua Utilities Florida, Inc.'s rate case. Appeals of the decisions made by the Authority are made directly to the state's Fifth District Court of Appeals.

The Authority normally meets on the first Monday of each month in room 166 at the Lecanto Government Complex at 1 p.m. Prior to each meeting, the Office of Utility Regulation publishes meeting details and agenda items in the Citrus County Chronicle. The public is welcome to attend.

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