DWSD board approves new drainage fee policy

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously adopted a policy that allows Detroit’s water department to implement a new drainage charge program.

The Water and Sewerage Department unveiled the multiphase plan last month that’s designed to transition all parcels in Detroit to a uniform and equitable system for drainage billing within the next several years.

For some 22,000 parcel owners, the process is slated to begin in October. The group, which includes residential, commercial, industrial and tax-exempt parcels, including government properties and churches, owes about $10 million in fees never before been collected.

DWSD Director Gary Brown has said the parcels, identified through assessing records and survey data, are being added to the system as part of his department’s ongoing effort to bring fair and equitable billing to Detroit’s water customers. Officials, he said, are phasing in the changing drainage rate to mitigate the impact it will have on businesses and residents.

Since 1975, most have paid for drainage as part of their water and sewer bills. Some have been paying on an outdated fixed-rate meter system, while others are being charged based on impervious acreage — a model that will be implemented when the transition period concludes. The 22,000 others had not been charged at all.

Board chairman Michael Einheuser noted Wednesday the plan will be rolled out over a period of time and there’s room for amendments. Most customers, he added, are already paying for drainage but the cost burden isn’t properly distributed.

“The overriding values are to be fair and equitable,” Einheuser said.

The program will ensure all parcels that drain into the city’s sewer system are billed based on impervious acreage.

Included will be parcels not receiving a water bill, such as surface parking lots that drain into the sewer system.

DWSD began sending out letters in August to the parcel owners who haven’t previously been charged to alert them of the impending fees.

The plan is already getting push back from some residents and religious institutions seeing high monthly increases. The Archdiocese of Detroit told The News last month that 18 parishes had received letters from the water department. A handful will have to come up with more than $1,000 extra per month, a couple others with an additional $2,000.

Residents who have never paid a drainage bill will be charged at a rate of $750 per impervious acre per month, minus a 25 percent credit, DWSD said. Based on the average residential acreage, a residential customer will be paying $22.48 when the costs kick in Oct. 1.

Residents on the meter system currently pay $20.50 per month for drainage costs.

Water Commissioner Jane Garcia said she’s concerned about the impact the policy will have on households already struggling to paying water bills.

Brown said the “vast majority” of residential customers won’t go on the new system until October 2017. And by the time they do, the drainage costs will likely be lower, he said.

The city has the ability to seek up to six years worth of unpaid drainage fees, but officials said new customers will not be back-billed.