County jail pulls plug on use of Bronson sewer

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By Claude Lewis

BRONSON –When most people open a bill and see that the charges are alarmingly high, they usually get on the phone and argue their case.

Some might get an adjustment, while some might get stuck paying the whole enchilada.

When the Levy County Sheriff's Department received a monthly water/sewer bill of $10,700 from the Town of Bronson for county jail usage, Major Mike Johnson's jaw dropped.

The bill is usually half that amount.

Johnson, who is the administrator in charge of approving the payment of bills, had a third option at his disposal –drop out.

"It's been creeping up on us more and more every month,"Johnson said of the water/sewer fees charged by Bronson. "It's like getting ripped in the back with a knife several times."

The December bill was apparently the straw the broke the back.

In a cost-cutting move that shocked Town Council members at the Feb. 4 meeting, Johnson announced that the jail was pulling the plug on sewer hookup to Bronson effective Feb. 8.

The jail has its own sewage system that can handle 744,000 gallons a month. The December bill from Bronson claimed 508,150 gallons of wastewater.

The county jail has some 150-160 inmates. Most of the water is used for laundry and kitchen.

The county sheriff's department looks to save thousands of dollars a month with the move, while Bronson will lose that amount of income.

"We budget $2,400 a month for sewage," Johnson said. "We're looking for relief now. We have our own system that can handle it. We're doing two-thirds of it, anyway."

While the county will save a good chunk of change in processing its own wastewater, the jail currently has no alternative but to use Bronson water coming in.

"We have a small well we use for irrigation,"Johnson noted. "The county has discussed drilling a well at the Levy County Sheriff's Office, but no decision has been made."

Based on past use, the fee for incoming water would be in the $2,500-a-month ballpark.

Bronson Town Clerk Donna Conquest admitted there were problems with the December billing, but that the Town had worked to make it right.

The confusion surrounds $100,000 given to Bronson by the county for sewer hookups to the court house and jail.

A discount was given to both until they hit the $100,000 number.

"We agreed to give them half price until the $100,000 was used up,"said Bronson Town Clerk Donna Conquest. "We had information that the $100,000 was used up, so we sent out the bill that way. When you hit that point, you're billed at full price."

As far as Johnson knows, the jail was never part of that deal. "That was the courthouse,"he said.

Conquest said that Bronson tried to work with the sheriff's office and jail.

"We took half of their bill off and gave them credit,"she said. "We adjusted in in good faith. We thought they would at least work it out with us. We can't force them to stay."

Water and sewer fees are the biggest money maker in Bronson, and the jail is one of the biggest users.

"They're big water users,"Conquest said. "Them and the schools are the biggest."

There was also criticism at the meeting about how much Bronson charges for its water.

Some pointed to Chiefland reportedly charging $3.50 per 1,000 gallons and Williston $3 per 1,000. Bronson charges $15.

Conquest defended Bronson.

"Both Chiefland and us have a flat fee of $30," she said. "With our $30 fee we give 20,000 gallons at no charge. The fee is $15 past 20,000. Chiefland charges $3.50 at zero gallons."

While that formula might help out average homeowners, big users like the jail aren't happy.

"People won't want to put their businesses here with those rates,"Johnson said.

If there's one positive for Bronson out of the whole deal, the jail pulling the plug could open up some sewer use for others.

Talk has Bronson's sewer use at near capacity. With the jail pulling out, the potential exists for a lot more gallons to be freed up.