Published: May 31, 2011 9:45 PM EDT
Updated: May 31, 2011 7:01 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Lee County utilities will seek a hefty rate increase over the next four years.  It says it needs the money to pay for higher internal costs, plus to pay for rehabilitation of the Green Meadows Water treatment plant near the international airport.

"It is going to happen at some time, and we want to get the increases going now in phases, rather than have one really big hike in 2 or 3 years," said Doug Meuer, head of Public Works for Lee County.   "We have not had a rate hike in 4 years.   Commissioners did not approve a hike of 4 percent last summer.   So now we really need extra money."

"It stinks!", said Letha Giacinti, a customer of Lee utilities.   "People like me on fixed incomes cannot afford all these higher costs for everything.   Something's got to give.   We can't pay more for everything."

"I think it will take a yeoman's effort to convince me to raise any kind of rates or fees at this time," said commission chairman Frank Mann.   "I believe we can get some money from the utility reserve fund.  We cannot just put it all on the customers, not in this economy."

Commissioners get a briefing on the proposal next Monday.  They are expected to vote on the issue in the next month or two.  The utilties department wants to institute higher rates, starting October 1 of this year.