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— Macomb County's public works commissioner warned Wednesday against participating in the proposed regional water authority.

Anthony Marrocco told the members of the Board of Commissioners' Finance Committee that such an authority would be weighted in Detroit's favor.

The Great Lakes Water Authority, hammered out after months of talks between Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and the city of Detroit, would have a six-member governing board: one appointment from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; one each from the executives of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb; and one from Gov. Rick Snyder. The authority also would require a supermajority vote on issues such as approving water and sewer rates and the annual operating budget.

Marrocco said Wayne County and Detroit would most likely vote the same way.

"It takes two votes to block anything," he said. "Detroit is the only government at the table that has two votes. If they don't like a proposal they can veto it. If you want to amend anything and Detroit doesn't like it you won't get it."

The authority would oversee many of the operations of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and has been a key piece in Detroit's plan to climb out of bankruptcy. Suburban leaders and residents have long been suspicious of the department and have complained for years about having no input on water rate increases or how they were set.

Marrocco added there would be a conflict of interest under the new authority.

"Detroit is the landlord and it will also be a tenant," he said. "You can be charging everybody and yourself rent and then paying it back to yourself."

Under the plan, Detroit would still own the water system and infrastructure that serves much of southeast Michigan.

Also at issue, Marrocco said, was the cost of what he called subsidizing Detroit to the tune of a $50 million annual lease payment water customers would pay under the 40-year plan, more than $26 million in indirect costs and $4.5 million that would go to a Water Residential Assistance Program fund for indigent residential customers.

Melissa Roy of the County Executive's Office said the regionalization plan is not perfect, but she urged the Board to vote to join the authority.

"It is a vast improvement in the governance structure," Roy said. "If the county decides to not sign on, this puts us in a precarious situation. This will give Macomb a seat at the table."

During the meeting commissioners asked many questions about the 40-year lease, the more than $26 million in indirect costs and the assistance program. They also asked about the authorities ability to bond. The board also took issue with the fact that if they voted against the authority, Snyder could then appoint a representative for Macomb.

Wednesday's hearing was the first of five that county officials have planned to debate the proposal before a final vote. They'll take public comments Thursday night.

Commissioner Robert Mijac thanked Marrocco for speaking before the board and touched on his feelings on making such as high-stakes decision.

"I know you are looking out for the county's tax payers to the best of your ability," Mijac told Marrocco. "I feel so, so pressured, under the gun, that decisions like this have to come out in a matter of weeks. This is something that is going to cost taxpayers so much."

UWatson@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2613

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