By: Jarret Romanello, The St. Lucie Post, Email: Info@stluciepost.com
Fort Pierce residents, business owners, and a city commissioner fought back against rising costs for electricity and water at Tuesday’s Fort Pierce Utility Authority (FPUA) meeting.
In May, amid surging inflation, the city commission voted for a 10% increase in water and sewer rates and a 9.5% increase in electric and gas to relocate a 62-year-old wastewater treatment plant.
But most customers have seen their utility bill nearly double. “This is one of the biggest things we’ve ever done, and it’s cause for celebration,” Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said after the vote.
Most of the city’s 35% of residents already living in poverty never received notice of the increase. And parents now have to decide between paying their utility bills or buying their kid’s back-to-school supplies. “We are on the verge of not being able to survive,” Cheyanne Kinslow told FPUA board members.
Homeowners questioned if FPUA was even reading their meters. One homeowner said his energy rate usage remained unchanged even after he remodeled his home to be more energy efficient. Another said he has 24-hour surveillance cameras and FPUA never comes to check his meter.
James Gray has lived in the same Fort Pierce home for 32 years, averaging 7,000 gallons of water usage each month. This month, he was charged for 17,000 gallons. Residents said questions to FPUA concerning meter readings have gone unanswered.
Tina Lomax, a single mother, saw her bill skyrocket from $539 last month to $ 1,269 in July. “You have hard-working mothers and fathers already struggling to pay their bills, and now this,” Robert Adams told FPUA board members. “This brings unnecessary suffering in an already difficult time.”
Jose Dorado questioned board members on how his utility bill could go from $600 one month to $1,600 the next month, with the same usage. The FPUA board chair, Frank Fee, said he is an FP&L customer and heard rumors that they will also increase their prices.
Rick Reed, the owner of Sweeties Diner, said the increase will cost him $30,000 a year. “That’s the cost of an employee,” Reed told The St. Lucie Post. “We own this utility authority. It belongs to us, not you. It’s not your piggy bank,” Reed told FPUA board members.
Fort Pierce City Commissioner Arnold Gaines voted against the rate hikes with Commissioner Curtis Johnson and told the board, “Everybody is frustrated” I hope you hear the concerns, the cries for help from the residents of Fort Pierce.”
After the public comments, FPUA board members voted to lower the Power Cost Adjustment by $ 30 per 1,000 kWh. Still the rate is among the highest in the state. “It’s not enough; we need new leadership at FPUA.” Reed said.
When FPUA staff decided to relocate the wastewater plant more than a year ago, they initially projected a much smaller rate increase to fund the relocation. The FPUA is still unsure how much the relocation will cost.
In a statement released on July 15th, FPUA said their price increases are the result of the rising price of natural gas which is out of their control.
On Wednesday, a resident started a petition on Change.org to have Fort Pierce flip the switch and sell FPUA to FP&L. You can learn more about the petition here: Let’s Say No to FPUA – No FPUA
As of Wednesday night, a video of the FPUA board meeting is no longer available for view on the City of Fort Pierce website.
If you need assistance with your electricity bill, please visit: https://alpi.org/liheap-and-lihwap-energy-fair/
Special payment arrangements can be made by calling the FPUA customer service department at