City takes no action on water rates

ALPENA – After nearly a three hour public hearing regarding rate increases to water and sewer rates for City of Alpena and Alpena Township customers, Alpena Municipal Council decided to not vote for the increase Monday night, but to look into other options that could lessen the financial stress the rate hike could cause residents.

With a unanimous vote, council referred the issue back to city staff, who will in turn look at ways to implement the higher fees over the next two or three years while still raising enough revenue to keep maintaining the system the best it can.

Councilmen Mike Nowak and Shawn Sexton agreed that rates need to be increased, but after many concerned citizens pleaded with council to explore alternative options, decided to take a closer look at the implementation and fee scale.

“That is one of the things Shawn and I agreed on right off the bat is to look at half,” Nowak said. “I looked at ‘did we exhausted every possible option to make it more palpable to the customers?’ I think we owe it to them to make sure and look at it again.”

The earliest new rates could be in place now will be May 1, as the original target of April 1 will not be easily attainable if council should choose a new option at its next meeting March 17.

Councilwoman Cindy Johnson said she understands the emotions the proposed increase in rates has brought to the public and admitted she would feel the same way, if she was sitting in the crowd and not on the council. She said it is the council’s goal to provide for the people, while ensuring dependable service. She said in order to provide quality service, investment is needed into the water and sewer system and to in doing so, rates need to be inflated.

“This is very difficult and it is something that didn’t just happen,” Johnson said. “This has been happening for at least the last 12 years, but you can see from the chart, Alpena has been historically paying very low rates. Past councils enjoyed that, the consumers enjoyed that. We can’t do that anymore. I have a responsibility sitting here to do what is in the best interest of everyone in the city. The point is this is difficult for everyone, but the rates do have to go up.”

City Engineer Rich Sullenger said he could take the numbers and do some calculations and he should be able to present several options to council the next time it meets. Whether it decides to vote on the higher rates then is yet to be seen.