Speer: Water war has far-reaching implications

“Water, water everywhere – but not a drop to drink.” ~The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I had hoped water negotiations in Alpena would have gone smoother than what they have thus far.

Instead, city officials find themselves with two tough issues regarding the subject.

The first is how do they deal with Alpena Township and successfully resolve a growing thorn in each other’s sides.

The second is how do they raise water rates for city residents without forcing them to have to take out a bank loan to make the payment.

Both issues are intricately connected and both, equally important.

Regarding the first, when Alpena Township lobbed the grenade Thursday into the city’s lap regarding subsidizing the city system and the need for reimbursement for past overcharges, it signaled that the gloves truly are off between the two. Reading the press release from township officials, I see no other solution other than a courtroom to get the matter resolved.

I expect after Monday’s 7 p.m. public hearing on water rates at city hall, the city will, as promised on April 1, implement the rates it has proposed to the township. Township officials will then fight the charges and a judge or arbitrator eventually will have to make the final determination. All of which means the eventual outcome won’t be known for months.

Just as important, however, is what the city is proposing for city residents. Council needs to rethink and move slowly to implement gradual increases to residents rather than go for everything it needs in one step. Residents already have seen their disposable incomes decrease in recent years and they shouldn’t have to make water an option in their lives like milk, bread or gas.

Admittedly, information regarding the proposed residential rates has been confusing at best. It almost feels as if you need a calculator with you as you try to figure them out. However, based on the latest information city officials released last week, if I’m correct I expect my rates at home to increase over $100 a quarter under the latest plan.

That will hurt. It will hurt me, and it would hurt you. Unfortunately, I expect it will force many of us to make some tough new decisions as to which is more important in our lives, or what we could live without.

I don’t believe anyone should be forced into such a decision, thus I implore council Monday to reconsider and to move more slowly, in stages, to make the increases more bearable for residents.

Few would argue against the need for increases. I believe the city has justified the need. What can be argued, however, is the percentage of any increase, and how it will impact everyone.

And, through all of this, I urge everyone – the city, township and area residents – to remember that more is at stake here.

Don’t think for a moment Meijer folks aren’t reading the newspaper each day and wondering about the groundbreaking they have scheduled. Don’t think for a moment these water rates might not impact eventual developers and businesses considering Alpena as an opportunity to include in their expansion plans.

Ask the region’s economic developer, Jim Klarich, and he’ll tell you one of the first things developers look into is what infrastructure is available and what the rates for that infrastructure are.

Alpena is at the cusp of major new development opportunities. The last thing we want to do is derail those opportunities over a water turf war or too high of rates.

We need to be smart. We all have waited too long and worked too hard to be at this point. The last thing we need to do is shoot ourselves in the foot over something like water.

Bill Speer can be reached via email at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 354-3111 ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13. Read his blog, More BS?(Bill Speer) at www.thealpenanews.com.