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State officials approve water rate hike for Central Florida community

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A Central Florida community will soon see an increase in their water bills after state officials approved a rate hike.

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It’s been a long battle between residents of the Wedgefield community in east Orange County and their water provider, Pluris.

That area already has some of the highest water bills in Central Florida.

On Tuesday, a handful of residents drove to Tallahassee for the Public Service Commission meeting to express their concerns.

Read: Wedgefield community rallies support for possible county takeover of Pluris Water

“I’m here to request that you please veto and increase to Pluris,” said Sheila Mayhew, a Pluris customer.

“Please do not approve this latest request for an increase,” said another customer. “[Me and my wife] selectively flush toilets, take “Navy showers” - one [minute] on, two [minutes] off, one [minute] on, just to save water.”

For the last several months, Mayhew has made it her mission to fight a water price increase in her community, saying the prices are already too high.

Read: Pluris customers beg state regulators to deny increases that could send water bills skyrocketing

Which is something long-time residents of Wedgefield have been battling for years.

“My water bill last month– and I wasn’t even here half the month– was $109, and that’s just for one person, pretty much,” said Mayhew.

With the increase that the private utility company, Pluris, was proposing, customers on average would have seen a $180 dollar a month water bill.

Read: ‘Enough is enough’: Residents urge Orange County to purchase Pluris water facility amid rate hikes

“It’s just too expensive, we can’t do it,” said Mayhew.

“The monies will be used to cover all reasonable operating and maintenance expenses and to provide the Utility a reasonable rate of return,” said Pluris Regional Manager Joseph Kuhns back in January.

“There hasnt been a rate case in over 10 years so I think you would expect that once every ten years utilities would need rate relief,” said Pluris attorney Martin Friedman, during the Public Service Commission meeting Tuesday.

While the commission did vote in favor of a rate hike, it was not the full amount that Pluris was requesting, which residents said is still a win.

“Even though we will see a rate increase, it’s not as bad as it would have been,” said Mayhew.

Mayhew, who is retired, said she’s now considering going back to work, in part because of her high water bills.

“If my water bill continues to go up, I can’t pay it from my social security check,” she said.

While residents tell us they’re not sure exactly how much the new increase will impact their bills, they believe all their hard work made a difference.

Now they are shifting their focus to a possible sale of Pluris to Orange County.

If things keep moving forward, Pluris customers would eventually have to vote on.

“We have lots of people who are in favor and we are getting more and more people who are in favor of it, because their water bills are going up.”

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