Fort Pierce Utilities Authority bills soar; Here's resources and tips to keep costs low
FORT PIERCE— Rates have soared this month for the 28,000 Fort Pierce Utilities Authority customers.
And they're getting hit with a double whammy.
One reason is the 10% increases for water and sewer service the city approved in May and that went into effect this month — its intent to provide funding to support the wastewater-treatment plant relocation off Hutchinson Island.
The Fort Pierce Utilities Board also Ok'd smaller 5% hikes for electricity and gas.
These increases will come again in October.
The bigger factor driving up current bills, however, is high costs associated with the natural-gas market — which have more than doubled since late May, according to FPUA Director Javier Cisneros.
Florida is especially vulnerable to the rising cost of natural gas because 75% of its electricity is generated by natural-gas-powered plants, he added.
Furthermore, Florida families are paying $4,000 more for energy this year on top of food increases, according to Florida Municipal Power Agency.
"To say the least, July bills have been tough for our customers. The current increase is unsustainable for our community,” Cisneros said at a FPUA board meeting earlier this month. “…What we are experiencing are a direct results of the constraints placed on the natural gas industry at the federal level."
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For Tina Lomax, her bill jumped more than $700 this month from roughly $540 to nearly $1,270.
"I have to choose between paying you and eating. It's a hard choice to make," said Ethel Reconco, one of about 25 people who voiced their grievances to the FPUA board last week. "...I didn't have a choice to pay my bills this month because I'm on autopay. You guys took the money. Other bills are not going to get paid. Other services are going to get canceled."
For its part, the FPUA board reduced the power-cost adjustment — by $30 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours.
FPUA's Project Care program, administered by Mustard Seed Ministries, allows FPUA customers to choose a one-time, monthly or rounded-up donation option to help other customers struggling to pay their bills or for weatherization improvements.
More than $62,000 has been accumulated through the program since 2005.
Additionally, FPUA tapped a pot of money funded by Florida Municipal Power Agency to funnel $50,000 into utility bill assistance.
Other programs and organizations that can provide assistance include:
- FPUA's special-payment arrangement: Residential customers pay their outstanding balance over a period of up to 12 months interest-free.
- FPUA's budget billing: Customers pay a predictable utility bill each month throughout the year. The predetermined monthly bill is based on the average of their actual utility bills during the prior 12 months, plus an additional percentage to cover any overages.
- Mustard Seed Ministries: 772-465-6021
- ALPI Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: 772-464-4846 ext. 104
- In the Image of Christ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: 772-461-7788
- Treasure Coast Council Society of Saint Vincent de Paul: 772-465-4551
- Turn the thermostat to 78 degrees when no one is home
- Repair cracked windows and doors
- Replace air conditioner filters when they looks dirty and check them monthly
- Perform maintenance on air conditioner condenser and air handler units every year
- Replace weather stripping on windows and doors as needed
- Adjust water heater temperature to120 degrees
- Use cold water when washing clothes
- Use LED lights
- Fix plumbing leaks
- Clean refrigerator coils twice per year
Olivia McKelvey is TCPalm's watchdog reporter for St. Lucie County. You can reach her at email@example.com, 772-521-4380 and on Twitter @olivia_mckelvey.