Bronson water and sewer a recurring dilemma

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By Mark Scohier

A solution to rates and fees associated with water and sewer in the Town of Bronson continues to elude officials there.

Council members voted unanimously Monday night to again postpone a decision on rates for water and sewer use, agreeing that the latest proposal, which would more than double rates for most, was still too high.

Staff presented council with a plan that would charge a base rate for both water and sewer usage on the first 2,000 gallons of usage, less than half of the 5,000 initial gallons town residents and businesses are currently having the rate based on.

“That’s a mighty big jump ... and we’re talking about people who can’t afford sewage ...” said council member Beatrice Roberts, referring to recent debates about what to charge town residents and businesses to hookup to new water and sewer lines.

The new rates, when established, will serve as incentive for Bronson residents to conserve water, a measure required by the town’s water use permit issued by the Suwannee River Water Management District. Bronson’s water and sewer rates have not changed in nearly 20 years.

Vice Mayor Berlon Weeks, though agreeing that the proposed rates seemed high, said the issue needed to be approved soon, in order to ensure the issuing of a government bond for the related  water and sewage project. Still, the council wanted another week to “play with the numbers” a bit and included in the motion setting up a workshop on the matter Feb. 11, at 5 p.m.

The council was more divided on the issue of impact fees for new water and sewer hookups, voting 3-2 in favor of tabling the matter until water and sewer usage rates could be determined. Mayor Franklin Schuler was the deciding vote, which proved Weeks and Council member Jason Kennedy at odds with Roberts and Council member Aaron Edmondson.

Edmondson brought his latest plan for impact fees to the table Monday night, suggesting that current residents and businesses get a 70 percent discount on sewage hookup fees, bringing the total for the lowest meter size residential users from about $3,500 down to about $1,000. His plan would allow the hookup fees to be spread out over 42 months with $25 payments each month. New residents and businesses required to hook up would eat the full cost.

“That’s the proposal I want to provide to council tonight,” he said.

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” Weeks told Edmondson, explaining that the numbers, even though reduced in many cases by Edmondson’s plan, were still based on survey data that the council agreed months earlier was faulty.

Weeks, himself, said he’d asked staff earlier in the week to run numbers on a plan that would charge a one-time $300 residential fee, a $600 commercial fee and a 10-year, $3-per-connection fee for everyone.

Town Clerk Kelli Brettel said she didn’t have a chance to run Weeks’ numbers, though, she added, any plan should be based on an official study, such as the one performed for free last year — and subsequently rejected by council — by the Florida Rural Water Association.

Week said his proposal wasn’t necessarily something that was meant to be placed on the night’s agenda, but more to get an idea of how the fees would work out.

Still, he said, the fee Edmonson proposed, even when reduced, was still too much to pay.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, “ he said, “and we want to bring Bronson along, but we don‘t want to get stuck in a quagmire ...”

Edmondson said he didn’t think a $25 fee once a month was unreasonable and criticized Weeks’ plan because it proposed to charge everyone within the town, not just those getting hooked into the new system.

“Everybody’s got to pay, don’t they? Aaron, everybody’s gonna’ get sewer.”

Edmondson said not everyone would get it at the same time. He said he, personally, would be “dead and gone” before such services ever reached his own residence.

Weeks said everyone will have to kick in if the loan for the project is to be payed back.

Edmondson, referring to discussions as far back as last year where there were talks of whether or not to exempt a business owner from the fees because he had donated an easement to the project, accused Weeks of wanting to give services away for free.

“You know what, Aaron? You know what I want? I want my term to end,” Weeks said.

“I do too. I want your term to end too,” Edmondson replied.

Council member Jason Kennedy, echoing what Weeks had suggested earlier in the discussion, broke up the conversation by asking that the matter of hookup fees be tabled until the issue of water and sewage usage rates was settled.

“We need to come up with a number that’s workable.”

Roberts instead proposed that another 20 percent off of Edmondson’s plan be considered, bringing his $1,000 down to about $800. She also said it didn’t make sense to raise the water and sewer usage rates if town residents were going to have trouble paying off sewer and water connection fees.

Edmonson said he was “tired of spinning his wheels” on the issue.

After the vote, which will stall the decision on hookup fees until after usage rates are determined, Edmondson made “a motion to call somebody” to help address the possibility of a new study that hookup fees can be based on. Nobody opposed the motion.