TAMPA, Fla. - The city of Tampa has approved the largest public works project in its history - and it will come with a big increase in water utility rates.
The city hopes to stop the steady flow of water main breaks - of which there have been nearly 2,500 in the last two years - with a $2.9 billion project to be completed over the next 20 years.
"This is a huge deal. This is a historic vote," said Brad Baird, the city's public works administrator.
The city said the project will replace a quarter of its 2,200 miles of pipes, but that kind of undertaking comes at a cost. The city said residents' average monthly water bills will rise from about $41 to $46 by next year, and three percent every year thereafter.
By 2026, bills will cost about $80.
East Tampa resident Bakari Brown isn't happy about that, and was the only resident to address the council at its Wednesday night meeting.
"Once they see it kick into effect as the years go on, they will realize the impact it is having on their pockets," he said. "It will mean more to them. They will be outraged. At that point, it will be too late."
To win the council's votes, Mayor Jane Castor dropped a $300 million project to transform sewer water into drinkable water.
She also called for a payment assistance plan, which would help those who make 30% of the median income, to include seniors and the disabled.
That means instead of 6,900 residents qualifying for the plan, 29,000 will qualify.
On Thursday night, councilors expanded that plan to those who make 50% of the median income. It is unclear how many more will now qualify.
"There is no good time to raise any rate," said Councilor Charlie Miranda. "It is difficult to do these things, but that is what we got elected for."
Some councilors were worried about committing to such an expensive plan for so long. John Dingfelder was the only councilor to vote against it.
"That is sort of what is blowing my mind," he said.
But the city insisted, saying along with main breaks there have been more than 1,000 cave-ins since July of 2017. It is no longer worth it to pay $20 million a year to fix pipes that are 100 years old.
"We have done our best to spread out the pain over time," said Baird.