City to wait on setting water rates

ALPENA -The Alpena Municipal Council is going to delay setting new price rates for city customers while it negotiates new fees for Alpena Township. The council decided to hire rate attorney Jim Young, who was part of the water rate study done by Gosling Czubak.

City staff is going to work on terms of a contract with Young before a June 18 meeting to get a plan in place on how best to handle negotiation with the township. The city hopes new rates for the township and city users will be in place by Jan.1.

Councilman Shawn Sexton, along with Councilwoman Susan Nielsen, will sit in on the first meeting. He said the rates need to be raised, but only by working together will a deal be reached that will have the least amount of negative impact on the customers.

“I think an agreement has to be made by the first of year,” Sexton said. “It will be beneficial to both parties that we establish an agreement so we can all move forward. What we charge them will greatly affect how we set our rates in the city. I don’t think the process will be like a fast moving train, and certainly the township has to look out for their best interest and the city needs to look out for its. Hopefully we’ll find some common ground and do what is right for everyone.”

The current recommendation before the council would add a $5 ready-to-serve charge to both water and sewer. That money, combined with regular rates, would bring in an extra $1.6 million to the city that it could use to fix its aging and failing system. The $5 charge would balloon to $8.31 over the course of several years. Councilman Sam Eiler said he agrees rates need to be increased, but thinks the staff and council should look into ways the city can help out those who may not have enough money to pay their water and sewer bill. Eiler said a small percentage of the $1.6 million could be set aside and loaned to customers who are struggling with poverty. He said any plan would have to follow local state and federal law however.

“I think possibly, if council agrees to do this and it is legal, to set aside some of the money on a one-time basis and try to have it stay at that level by repayments of the loans from the people who borrowed,” Eiler said. “It would be a loan and there would have to be a mechanism to make sure people would repay, which I guess would be to shut their water off, like it would have from not paying their original bill.”

The amount of money the city is willing to spend to hire Young was not specified, as negotiations are ongoing.

In other business:

  • the farmers market updated the council on upgrades it wants to make to the market behind city hall. The addition of a phone line will be included to the market so it can scan Fleet cards. The phone equipment will be stored in a small shed next to the larger facility.
  • the council voted to grant a request for a noise variance to the Holiday Inn for an event for the HOG Rally in July and for the Alpena Blues Coalition for the annual Alpena Blues Festival later this month.
  • the board is going to consider placing a Port-a-John at McRae Park. The park is used frequently by families and the restrooms are closed unless baseball games are taking place.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at