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Last updated on Saturday, April 21, 2012
(BROWNSTOWN) - The county agreed to pay Brownstown $135,368.58 over a two-year period to end a long debate about an outstanding sewer bill.
"I'm comfortable with that, getting paid back over a quicker period," Brownstown Councilman Ben Lewis said during a joint meeting of county council members and town councilmen at the courthouse annex.
Aubrey Woods, of the Tribune reports, Lewis was referring to a compromise in which the county would pay $135,369.58 in two installments, one in June and another in June 2013.
The purpose of the meeting was for the two governing bodies to reach an agreement on how much the county owed the town for providing sewer service for the jail and juvenile detention center since the joint facility opened in 2000.
Last summer, the town discovered it had not billed the county for sewer services. In September, the county received a $33,214.31 sewer bill for service at the building, just east of town off Indiana 250. That bill was paid.
At that time, Brownstown Clerk-Treasurer David Willey said the town had not been billing the county for the service because it had not been receiving a water bill from Jackson County Water Utility Inc. The town bases sewer bills on water usage.
During Wednesday's meeting, county commissioners' President Jerry Hounshel said when the jail was built the utility bills were divided between the jail and the juvenile center. At that time, it was decided the jail would pay the electric bill and the juvenile center, which was new, would pay the remainder of the utility bills. Hounshel was sheriff at that time.
After discovering the county was not being billed, the town asked the water company for water usage records for the jail and juvenile center, and the water company came up with those numbers back to 2004.
Willey said the town later discovered it had made a calculation error, and that's why a second bill asking the county for $197,717.67 was sent.
County attorney Susan Bevers later told the county council that state statute limited the town to only being able to collect six years of unpaid bills.
On Wednesday, Lewis said the town council had come up with a bill of $219,244.30 that was based upon six years of usage and the out-of-town sewer rate. That amount did not include the $33,214.31 the county paid in September.
Lewis said the council also had agreed to go back just four years instead of six, which would leave a balance of $146,162.87. He said if the county council would accept that deal, it could be repaid at a rate of $36,540.17 per year for four years.
County Councilman J.L. Brewer proposed a counter-offer of $135,368.58 to be paid over a two-year period. County council members voted to approve Brewer's proposal.
Brownstown council members also voted 3 to 1 to accept that proposal. Councilman Bill Sweeney voted against the proposal.
Sweeney said the county should pay all it owed.
"If I owe John Nolting $10,000, I shouldn't pay him $7,000," Sweeney said of town council President John Nolting.
County council President Charlie Murphy said the town council grants sewer adjustments to people who have leaks and fill swimming pools.
And county Councilman Leon Pottschmidt said that leaks at the jail over the years means it's likely that not all of the water used at the jail has gone through the town's sewer system.
Some of those leaks have involved sprinkler heads broken off by inmates, which is not an uncommon occurrence, Bevers added.
Lewis said he had lost sleep over the issue and that it came about because of poor oversight by both parties.
"This is not showing preferential treatment," Lewis said. "We offer adjustments to people all the time. This works better than winding up in a tangled mess."
Nolting said he also wanted to see the issue resolved. As town council president, Nolting does not vote except in the event of tie votes, but Councilman Dustin Steward joined Lewis and Councilman C.J. Foster in approving the compromise payment plan.
"We need to get along in a congenial manner and get along with you guys," Nolting said.
Brewer said a decision by the county council in 2011 now has one person responsible for paying utility bills for all county buildings, and that should mean a similar issue shouldn't occur in the future.
"There will be one person to go to if it does," Brewer said.
On Thursday, Foster said there is a state statute that allows governing bodies to resolve such issues, and in the past he said most town residents he has talked with just want the issue resolved.
Willey also said on Thursday that council had not directed him where to put the money, but it would have to go to the sewer utility and not the town general fund.
"The sewer utility is separate from the town"' Willey said.
Murphy said after the meeting that the county council will pay the bill from its Rainy Day Fund.
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