Township residents oppose unified water system

ALPENA – The Alpena Township Board of Trustees had a public input session on Monday to discuss with residents the proposed unified water/sewer system suggested by the city. Township residents repeatedly expressed their opposition against having a unified system.

Trustee Matt Dunckel did some research on the available information on the concept of unifying townships and cities.

“The preponderance of academic research doesn’t support local government consolidations as a cost reduction strategy,” Dunckel said. “Studies of perspective mergers and consolidations sometimes predict savings, but post-merger studies found that the promised savings did not materialize and the cost actually increased.”

Dunckel gave several reasons why he believed turning over authority of the system would not benefit the township residents, with a possible loss in input being one of his main concerns.

“Reducing the number of elected governing bodies or public officials is sort of like rationing democracy,” Dunckel said. “If you turn this over to a unified authority, you’re not going to have the opportunity to do what we’re doing here. We’re not going to have a township meeting. We’re not going to sit down and work out the differences that we see and get down to the basic facts. That is probably the largest reason why I’m not interested in turning over the authority of the township to this other governing body.”

Towship Supervisor Marie Twite said the public input was a good session and the board got a feel of the preference of the township residents regarding a unified system.

“They believe that they will be paying for the meters for the City of Alpena, partially, plus city debt, and they are really upset about the city having a debt coming in,” Twite said. “If we went into a unified system they have a debt and we don’t have debt. What debt we have is a special assessment district which is paid for by the residents in that neighborhood.”

Alpena Township also has a much newer system that is around 30 years old, compared to the city system which is in most areas around 80 years old, according to Twite, with a few streets they have redone.

The township has replaced some of its meters gradually with commercial replacements first because the losses were found to be the highest in those areas, including some high residential areas. Township attorney James Florip was at the meeting and explained portions of what has been proposed by the city.

“A part of their proposal is that if there was a joint system they would come in and replace all the township meters,” Florip said. “We tried to explain tonight that this rate agreement we had in effect, admittedly had expired, and we were hoping to extend it. In the basic water agreement, we maintain it’s still an agreement, we had a special rate agreement that lasted from 1988 until last year. It laid out in effect a wholesale rate.

“Alpena Township only paid for those portions of the city system that we used. We were guaranteed a certain capacity of the water plant, a certain capacity of the sewer plant, which we paid for, we paid for our share of operating costs, and we paid for our portions of their system that we used.”

The township charged the wholesale rate, added in operation expenses and added a delivery charge to residents already was built into the rate from the last agreement. Twite said the city was not charging for the extra expenses to their own residents, and were only charging them the wholesale rate.

In a correspondence letter, City Manager Greg Sundin suggested an increase of approximately 62.5 percent for both utilities, water and sewer. Stating that “if the township agrees to move forward with the unified approach, it is intended that these rates will be interim in duration.”

Florip went through the correspondence and was concerned about the interim suggestion.

“The city manager basically said that they would like a joint system, and if you don’t agree to a joint system, we’re going to raise rates to the township, not to the township residents, but to the township by 62 percent,” Florip said. “We of course would have to pass that on to the township residents … but they said that would be interim until you join the system, join it, and have a joint system.”

The trustees decided they want to look at what other alternatives there are out there before they make any decision.