City developing water rates plan

ALPENA – On March 3, the new water rates for city residents and Alpena Township could be established and in effect by April 1. For residents and businesses in Alpena Township it may take a little longer to know exactly how large an increase they will see.

During the Alpena Municipal Council meeting Monday, city staff presented a new proposal that will charge $4.95 per 1,000 gallons of water and $5.35 per 1,000 gallons of sewer. Any fees above this in the township will be added by the township and not the city.

The new rates were set after the township declined to accept a proposal to have the city’s water and sewer system combined with the townships and have it managed by United Water, which is contracted by the city. In the unified system proposal, rates would have been higher for all, but it would have allowed for cost sharing in some areas, according to City Engineer Rich Sullenger.

The new rates will come with additional monthly fees. There will be a “ready to serve” charge of $5 for each sewer and water, as well as a billing fee of $2.92 each. There also is a commodity charge of $4.95 per 1,000 gallons of water and a $5.35 per 1,000 gallons for sewer that will be added to a customer’s bill. The total monthly bill for a customer who uses 1,000 gallons of water and sewer will be $26.14 or $78.42 quarterly. That is a jump of about 29 percent from what the current quarterly bill is with today’s rates of $4.18 water and $4.99 sewer, per 1,000 gallons.

Sullenger said the unified system would have had rates in the neighborhood of $6.08 per 1,000 for water and $6.63 for sewer, plus the added fees. He said the township has been reluctant to move forward with the unified system and the need to increase rates is past due. He said the township has not experienced a price increase for water and sewer from the city for three years, while people living in the city have.

He said in order to provide the best and most reliable service the increases are needed. Sullenger said he believes there is a lot of confusion in both the township and city about the new rates and a unified system. He said at this point talks between the city and township have stalled and the city is moving forward to do what is in its best interest.

“We looked at what would be best for everybody in both the city and township and were very transparent,” Sullenger said. “In the unified system we would have billed the township’s customers directly. The township is not interested in that, so we moved to the new billing system and we are going to treat the township the same as any of our other customers.”

Since 2010 the city has charged the township $2.90 per 1,000 gallons of water and $3.47 for sewer. The township then adds fees in the form of a service charge and infiltration fee. Currently township customers pay $6.93 for 1,000 gallons of water and $7.19 for water.

Township Supervisor Marie Twite said the township customers believe the city is forcing higher rates on them and the city is reluctant to let it manage the water and sewer system in the township. She said it is like someone offering to take your car, pay for all of the gas, insurance and maintenance, but you can’t drive it anytime you want. Twite said she would like to continue to negotiate with the city to find a better solution to the water issue.

“I thought we had a bargaining team that was supposed to sit down and talk about things, but when you’re handed stuff and told this is the way it is going to be, that is not a very good democracy,” Twite said. “I think we should be able to sit and talk about what we see as problems and what they see as problems. When I look at the unified system I don’t see any advantages for our community.”

Sullenger said there was a joint afternoon meeting last month where he did a presentation about the unified system. He said the city would like to host another in the evening when more people are out of work and school. He said the city also had requested a list of concerns from the township regarding the unified system, but all it received was a letter stating the township chose not to move forward with the idea.

“We are being transparent and we don’t want there to be any misinformation out there,” Sullenger said. “There were some statements made at the township’s February meeting that could have been misconstrued by the public. We want the public to be fully informed.”

Sullenger said a unified system also would reduce labor costs, as well as redundancy in service, which would save money as well as the customer as inflation creeps upward.

Twite said the trustees and herself have an obligation to do what is best for the citizens and will take action if needed.

“If they impose the rates without any negotiation, the board will have to look at it and give me direction on where we go next,” Twite said. “The board hasn’t looked at all of its options yet.”

Sullenger said the city knows there is a chance the matter could be decided by a judge and is prepared to defend its actions.

“I don’t want to speak about what our future action may be. That is decided by council,” Sullenger said. “Have we looked at it as a possible option? Yes we have. We have looked at the impact if we implement this billing rate and they refuse to make payment of it.”

The council is holding a public meeting on March 3 before the regular meeting and it is expected it will vote on the new rates.

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