Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to move forward with legal steps to to force a private utility company to sell its two Hillsborough utilities. Commissioners
say they are sick of hearing complaints from customers of Pluris American Infrastructure. They call about cloudy, stinky water and high bills. Customers say the company does nothing to help.
“We believe that it’s in the best interest of our residents to make sure we can provide that very basic, essential service to them,” said Kevin Becker, Hillsborough County Commissioner.
The commission voted in December to not renew Pluris’ franchise agreement to run the East Lake utility. The county then began negotiations to buy the utility, but Pluris has been unwilling to sell.
Now, residents from Pluris’ other local utility, Pebble Creek, are flooding the commissioners with complaints about poor water quality and high prices.
So, the commission voted to try to acquire both utilities at the same time. This will likely take legal action. The county could use its eminent domain power.
Some residents are thrilled.
Bill Adum, who lives in Pebble Creek, near New Tampa, is tired of his water bill jumping up, down, and all around, no matter how much water he uses.
“They billed me for $26,000 gallons, and I’ve never in the past 24 years used over 18 or 19,000,” Adum said. “And then the next month, it went to 9 and then it went to 7, and then it went to 36,000 gallons.”>
He says his water usage remains the same every month, but he has no idea how much his bill will be each month. When he complains, he says he’s told, “We don’t make mistakes.”
The process will be slow, though.
The county attorney’s office offered this outline of what could be to come:
· As required by Florida Statutes, Hillsborough County will provide each utility owner with written notice that the County intends to acquire their utility system for a public purpose and a written purchase first offer letter based upon valid appraisals. This is expected to occur by the end of August.
· The utility owners have at least 30 days from receipt of the written offer letter to decide whether to accept, to reject, or to engage in good faith pre-suit negotiations with Hillsborough County.
· If the utility owners reject or ignore the County’s written first offers, then after at least 30 days have passed, the County will file an Eminent Domain Petition in the Circuit Court seeking to acquire the utility systems. As part of this eminent domain lawsuit, the County will seek to have the Court grant Orders of Taking, which will allow Hillsborough County to deposit a good faith estimate of value with the Clerk of Court, and take title to and possession of the utility systems in advance of the ultimate determination of the utility’s value to be paid at the conclusion of the litigation.
· Depending on the Court’s docket, the court hearing for the order of taking typically occurs 60-75 days from the date of filing the eminent domain lawsuit, and therefore it is expected that the County will acquire ownership of both utilities this Fall.
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