HUDSON — Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday that gives Summertree residents, and other private utility water customers, an escape from outrageous bills and foul-tasting water.
Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, sponsored the Consumer Water Protection Act, and Reps. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, and Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, carried it in the House.
Simpson called it the “single biggest piece of pro-consumer legislation around in a long time.”
Under the new law, the Public Service Commission could cancel a utility company’s certificate of authorization to operate a water or sewer system if 65 percent of its customers sign a petition. If the utility cannot prove it’s operating in the public interest, the PSC could place the system in receivership until it’s sold to another operator.
The bill also allows the commission to issue fines and deny rate increases for utilities that don’t meet certain standards related to the taste, color, odor and corrosiveness of drinking water.
“It’s going to change the landscape of how private utilities treat their customers,” Simpson said.
Summertree resident Ann Marie Ryan said she hopes the new regulations will spur Utilities Inc. to sell the system that serves her west Pasco retirement community. More than 250 residents joined the Summertree Water Alliance when it first formed in September, and bus loads of protesters traveled to Tallahassee for a PSC hearing, but they were unable to stop the commission from granting a 20-percent rate increase.
The Altamonte Springs-based private utility, which provides service to 22 systems in five Florida counties, had asked for a 36 percent rate hike. The average Utilities Inc. customer in Pasco pays about $85 a month for water and sewer service.
Ryan said residents are already in discussions with the state’s Office of Public Counsel regarding the petition process. “It’s wonderful to see a whole community come together like this to find a solution,” she said.