City to sue township over water bill

ALPENA – The City of Alpena and Alpena Township are likely headed to court over the township’s refusal to pay the new water and sewer rate increase that was imposed on the city’s customers, which includes the township.

Citing an inability to reach an agreement on rates and the township’s refusal to pay its bill in full, Alpena Municipal Council voted 5-0 on Monday to sue the township for the money owed and to prove the rate hike was legal after an agreement between the township and the city from 1977 was terminated by the city.

Councilman Shawn Sexton read a prepared statement after a half hour closed session that explained why the city has chosen the path it has. The statement said the rate increase was necessary to continue to maintain and make improvements to its water and sewer systems. Sexton said the city believes in fairness to all of its customers the township should be made to pay the same rate as everyone else.

“To refuse to pay the rates I think is irresponsible. It is irresponsible to the city customers and the township customers,” Sexton said. “I’m discouraged and frustrated with the township that the township feels it’s entitled to a special rate or discount, because this is the rate we need to provide the services. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t charge it. It’s always unfortunate to enter into litigation, but sometimes you do what you have to do.”

The township’s bill totaled $392,435 for March 1 through June 1. It was charged the old rate for the first two months and the increase was applied to the third and final month of the quarter. The township paid $327,070 of what the city believes it owes, $65,365 less than what was billed.

Mayor Matt Waligora said the water and sewer issue has been dragging on for too long and he thinks the only way to get closure on it is in court.

“I’m completely comfortable with all of the justifications we have,” Waligora said. “I think this will point us in the right direction to complete this whole ordeal and move on.”

Councilman Mike Nowak said efforts to work with the township have been exhausted and letting the courts decide the final outcome is only done as a last resort. He said he is in support of the move.

“We worked for months to establish those rates and to be sure they would be fair to all customers,” Nowak said. “To have one customer say ‘I’m not paying’ is deeply disturbing. I think this is the course of action we need to take.”

City Attorney Bill Pfeifer said he will file the complaint against the township at circuit court as soon as possible.

In other business:

* the council approved a request from The Black Sheep to provide outside seating for its customers.

* Waligora appointed Dan Florip to the Alpena Downtown Develpment Authority for a four-year term.

* Waligora appointed Doug Pugh to the historical district study committee for a four-year term.

* City Engineer Rich Sullenger told council that billing for water and sewer is going to change. The current bills sent in the mail are on postcards, but the new ones will be on a full page print out. Sullenger said it will contain a larger breakdown of charges and services. The new mailing method will cost about 40 cents per bill.

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