Wakulla County Sewer Billing Answers 

{sidebar id=1}Did you receive a sewer bill higher than “usual” last month?  Many of our sewer customers did.  Here is why.

All customers currently on Sopchoppy Water that are also customers of the Wakulla County Sewer System began to receive a bill from Sopchoppy Water.  In effect, their water and sewer bills were combined into a “utility bill.”   I commend Sopchoppy Water staff, especially Ms. Jackie Lawhon, Ms. Linda Langston, Ms. Page Evans, and Ms. Ashley Evans, for stepping up and providing this service to their customers and providing it in such a manner that it benefits every taxpayer in Wakulla County.  I commend the staff of Sopchoppy Water for the “heat” they are taking and for the many “glitches” they have found and overcome in the last couple of months.  This change was not simple and Sopchoppy Water staff is professional and the results are superb.

A very important aspect of this change is as follows.  If a citizen pays their water bill, but does not pay their sewer bill, their water will be turned off by the City of Sopchoppy.  Also, the City of Sopchoppy will bill for sewer in accordance with current Wakulla County resolutions and State laws—thus the higher bills.

BACKGROUND:  Sewer is a service that should pay for itself.  It has not been doing so due to processes in place that allowed some customers to receive free sewer service and many other customers to receive subsidized service.  As with any business, this could not continue (unless we use taxpayer’s money to make up the difference).  The only reason it has gone on as long as it has is because the county has used general revenue to pay the shortfalls in sewer fee collections.  This is unfair to all customers except the few who are receiving the subsidies.  I have spent the last two years researching this problem and searching for solutions to the problems I found.  Some “answers” I believed to be correct when I began this process have proven to be wrong and I’ve learned and modified my suggested corrections along the way.  It has not been simple or easy; however, corrections are being made.  I appreciate the BOCC for supporting these upgrades.

Current billing rates for Wakulla County Sewer are as follows.  There is a base fee of $15 per month which provides them with the first 2,000 gallons of sewer collection, treatment, and disposal.  If a family is out of town and uses no water, they must still pay this $15 to pay the normal operations and maintenance of our sewer collection plant and infrastructure.  After the first 2,000 gallons, there is an additional fee of $2.00 per 1,000 gallons of water usage.  For commercial customers, the base fee is $21.00; except their usage fees are $2.50 per 1,000 gallons starting with the first gallon.  These rates were set in Wakulla County Resolution 97-40, which became effective March 1, 1998.  The rates have not been increased since that time and are far below the regional average.  We need a new rate study however, until all customers are paying as required we cannot have a rate study done that will be accurate.  Sopchoppy Water System simply began billing the county sewer customers as determined by usage, instead of billing them the flat rate they are used to receiving.  A huge piece of our billing problem was corrected.

Until the beginning of this month, The Panacea Area Water System (PAWS) billed all Wakulla Sewer customers.  If a customer was on a water system other than Panacea, that customer was often billed the base amount without regard to sewage actually generated by a given customer.  This was unfair, but Wakulla County had no mechanism in place to ensure PAWS was provided the correct amount of water a customer used or even who was connected to the sewer system.  PAWS had no incentive to find this out as they were paid a flat rate to send bills and collect any money paid.  Wakulla County recently signed a Letter of Agreement with Sopchoppy Water that mandates Sopchoppy Water bill for any sewer customers that are on Sopchoppy Water.  Of course, Sopchoppy Water knows how much water is being used, so many people saw a dramatic increase in fees—sometimes double.  What this really means is that many Sopchoppy Water customers had enjoyed subsidized sewer service in the past.  This inequity is now corrected.

Another improvement which I wrote and brought to the board that was approved last year is averaged billing.  It states sewer bills are based on the average usage for the months of January, February, and March.  This improvement means customers will not be charged sewer bills for water they are using to irrigate their gardens and lawns.  To my knowledge, this improvement has not been implemented by PAWS and is costing their customers money.  Sopchoppy Water immediately implemented this change.  I am working with PAWS to make the same change.  One caveat to this is a customer had to be a paying customer since the first of the year; otherwise the sewer bill is figured based on their actual usage for the month.  Any customer on the sewer system as of the first of the year will receive a bill that is the average bill of January, February and March.  I understand my rapid written explanation is slightly confusing but if you want to know more about this please call your billing agency and they can explain.

If you want a copy of our sewer consultant’s report to the BOCC, which we adopted in full, which explains many of these points in much greater detail, please respond by email and I will forward you a copy.  I could have attached it to this email but it is lengthy and some of the people receiving this are on dial up and I didn’t want to clog their systems.

Since becoming a member of your Board of County Commissioners, I have spent hundreds of hours working on the Wakulla County Sewer—and this is no exaggeration.  My work is beginning to pay off.  We are changing and implementing policies that will allow our administrator to effectively manage our sewer system.  We are expanding our system in a manner that will pay for itself.  Operations now pay for themselves.  Centralized planning is beginning to happen.  I am continuing to work with all our utility providers to correct other sewer deficiencies.  I will not be satisfied until all our billing and service problems are solved—and this WILL happen.  I look forward to working with PAWS and Talquin to make several more improvements in service, planning, and operations.

Thank you for allowing me to serve.


Ed Brimner
Wakulla County Commissioner, District III
(850) 926-0919  (Office)
(850) 926-0940  (FAX)

This letter originally published on August 12, 2007.

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