Inflation, Upgrades Bring Increased Wellington Water Bills

A proposed 10 percent jump in water bills will leave Wellington still a bit easier on the wallet compared to Riviera Beach and Fort Lauderdale, but pricier than Tequesta, Lantana, Palm Beach County, Jupiter and Delray Beach, village officials heard at a workshop Monday, Aug. 7.

Wellington’s projected customer tally for using 5,000 gallons in 2024 lands at $74.38, up from $67.54 now.

That beats $93.67 in Fort Lauderdale but comes in costlier than $61.98 for Palm Beach County, according to comparisons compiled by village staff. Some Wellington residents east of State Road 7 get county water service.

The costs are tied in part to maintaining and improving village water facilities, officials said. In addition, expenses for things like chemicals, power and replacement parts experienced inflationary bumps.

Ripples in the system can play out differently in various municipalities over time, depending on their pace of spending for improvements and adjusting rates, village staff explained.

“I think we’re used to seeing things go up right now, but we don’t want to see a failure that costs us more in the long run,” Mayor Anne Gerwig said.

The council will review and approve its final budget numbers in the coming weeks.

A lot of costs involving water, whether directly tied to utility bills or not, figure heavily in the overall 2024 budget picture.

About $7.4 million of Wellington’s fiscal year 2024 budget goes to utility projects related to water supply and treatment, Deputy Village Manager Tanya Quickel said.

A number of projects involve ways to manage water if Wellington gets swamped with double-digit inches of rain in a short period of time, as happened in 2012, for example.

One planned upgrade involves updating diesel engines at a water pumping station. The original engines came from Rolls Royce in the 1970s, forcing reliance on sometimes tricky supply chains connected to England, staff members said.

Elsewhere in the capital improvements budget for next year, spending of more than $5.1 million on a new aquatics center figures prominently in “one-time projects” that also include $3.5 million in improvements to public works facilities and more than $100,000 in landscaping along the State Road 7 corridor.

As for landscaping, village officials encountered some difficulties with contractors in public areas that Wellington maintains.

Ruts in swales and other problems left Wellington leaders thinking that the grass might be greener with different vendors.

The village phased out a relationship with one such contractor and the council approved “emergency contract” orders for replacement services on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

Village leaders ratified emergency purchase orders to Mainguy Landscape Services and Wellington Professional Lawn Care for the remainder of the 2023 fiscal year for more than $289,000.

On its Aug. 8 consent agenda, the council further voted to award contracts to the companies for about $1.5 million annually.

The low bidder for the original contract had been BrightView Landscape Services, records show. However, there were issues that arose. “They were cutting in wet areas and doing a lot of rutting,” Village Manager Jim Barnes said.

This led to the abrupt, mid-year change.

“This is money well spent,” Councilman Michael Drahos said. “This is something people notice.”

Gerwig agreed. “Our residents noticed it,” she said.

Gerwig asked if new “E-Verify” requirements to make sure workers are legally qualified to work in the United States might have complicated the situation. However, village staff said that Wellington had already moved to such standards at the start of 2021.

Landscaping mishaps can easily become noticeable to the public in places such as swales, the spaces between sidewalks and roads. Wellington pays various contractors for maintaining spaces such as parks, facilities and the sides of public roads.