City recommends plan for water rates

ALPENA – The City of Alpena proposed to the Alpena Township Board of Trustees what it believes is a viable plan for how water rates are set, during a special joint meeting Wednesday. The plan would utilize a unified water and sewer system that would allow for all customers using it to pay the same price for service.

The numbers used during the presentation showed customers paying $6.08 for water and an additional $6.63 for sewer, per 1,000 gallons. There also would be a series of additional fees lumped onto the consumption costs. There would be a $4 billing fee monthly, as well as an operation and management fee, a debt service charge, an infrastructure maintenance charge totaling $12.71 per 1,000 gallons, and there would be a $10 ready to service fee for customers who use a water meter one inch or less.

The fees increase with larger meters. When totaled it would cost the user at least $31.42 a month for 1,000 gallons of use.

City Manager Greg Sundin said a fair plan that focuses on the customer and not politics is important. He said the unified system would allow customers who live miles from the water plant to pay the same rate as someone who lives closer. Sundin said he hoped a concept can be agreed upon and then the details can be ironed out during future negotiations.

“It has been us against them and you against us and it had really become a political jurisdictional tension. It seems the one party that seemed to be lost in that is the rate payer, the user,” Sundin said. “This would make the system one entity and there would be one billing rate. Right now the systems are separate and we have lost the ability to treat all customers the same. We believe a unified system could fix that no matter where they are on the system.”

If the numbers used were to become a reality it would generate almost $2 million annually that could be used to maintain a failing system and to make needed upgrades.

Sundin said there were other options that could be explored, such as forming an authority to take control of the system, or to rework the contract that was in place for more than 30 years. In the contract there is a formula that sets water and sewer rates, but often there were true-up charges at the end of the year and large amounts of cash exchanged hands to one party or the other. Township Trustee Matt Dunckle said he needed time to digest the unified system proposal and that discussion was needed in the township about the plan.

“I would feel much more comfortable if we could reconvene after I get a chance to look over this,” Dunckle said. “I don’t think we are going to come to any grand agreement at this point. We just need to look closer at what was presented.”

Mayor Matt Waligora said it is the responsibility of both sides to come to a deal that is fair for everyone, but do so in a timely matter. He said there could be future presentations outlining the pros and cons of the authority and contract options.

“As a council we would like to walk away from this meeting with some sort of agreement on a direction,” Waligora said. “Is the unified system in any way an idea we can work out details and answer questions about? If not, we can continue to discuss other avenues, but we would like some idea on the direction and a time line.”

As the meetings wrapped up, the township board decided to review the proposed plan further. Township Supervisor Marie Twite said a public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Feb. 3, where residents of the township can make comment on the water and sewer plan. The regular meeting will follow at 7 p.m.

Although public comment was offered during Wednesday’s meeting no one in attendance addressed either board.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.

Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com