Most Metro Detroit communities will pay more for water

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Most communities will pay more for water service this summer under proposed changes by Metro Detroit’s regional water authority.

Sue McCormick, CEO of the Great Lakes Water Authority, said Wednesday the average wholesale customer will likely see a 4.5 percent increase in the charge for water service.

The increase included in the 2017 budget, which could take effect July 1 for most communities, is needed to offset a 0.3 percent drop in water usage, she said.

“This is the big trend going on across the country and what we’ve been chasing for years is downward usage,” McCormick said.

Of 80 communities that had previous figures for comparison, 75 will see increases ranging from 0.3 percent to 20 percent for its charge per 1,000 cubic feet of water, according to The Detroit News analysis of the authority’s proposed 2017 water charges.

Among the largest increases: 20 percent for Royal Oak Township, 14.1 percent for New Haven, 12 percent for Romeo, 9.8 percent for Northville Township and 9.7 percent for Troy.

Of those seeing the biggest drops are Novi, which will see a 23.7 percent decrease, and 9.6 percent for Lapeer.

The authority proposes charging the city of Detroit $15.5 million for its water service.

Metro Detroit homeowners’ water bills will likely be higher since many communities tack on additional costs to wholesale charges to cover their own infrastructure and operating costs.

Meanwhile, the average sewage service charge will rise about 5.2 percent, officials said. The hike is needed to pay for a budget increase and the city of Highland Park’s debt to the water authority. Highland Park owes about $28 million in unpaid water bills.

The authority is in the process of setting its 2017 wholesale water and sewerage charges for communities. Its charges for water service are a combination of monthly fixed costs and water usage. GLWA officials said 60 percent of what it charges a community is a monthly fixed cost and the rest is metered usage.

This year is the first time the authority will set rates for the region. The DWSD had previously determined what communities and their residents were billed.

On Wednesday, the authority’s board held a public hearing on the fifth floor boardroom of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department building in downtown Detroit on the proposed charges. It also held a public hearing on its biennial budget, which will end June 30, 2018. A few members of the public addressed the board and the meeting lasted about 45 minutes.

The board took no action and will vote on the proposed charges at a later date.

Dearborn resident Tim Kleczynski asked the board why his water bill is going up.

“My family uses 17 percent less water than it did 13 years ago,” he said. “I figured my bill would be less. Use less, pay less. My bill is actually 112 percent more.”

He said he paid $102 in 2002 and now pays about $216. “That’s not how you survive in the private sector,” he said. “I’m hoping you all will find ways to provide citizens with additional value.”

After the hearing, Brian Baker, who represents Macomb County on the board, said he understands people’s concerns about the proposed charges, and that the board “is doing all it can” to keep increases reasonable.

GLWA officials said Wednesday changes in its budget, system usage and contract demands affect its charges for service.

“Each individual community that contracts with us specifies what their needs are, including what they’re going to use on a maximum use day, what they’re going to use in a peak hour, total volume of water they’re going to purchase over the year,” McCormick said. “As communities change those things, their costs change.”

In February 2015, the DWSD proposed an average 9 percent hike for water service charges for 2015-16. It set charges based on several factors, including annual sales volume and maximum day and peak hour demands, as well as distance and elevation from water treatment plants.

The GLWA was created last summer when officials with the state, Detroit and Oakland and Wayne counties agreed to turn over Detroit’s water and sewer system to the authority for the next 40 years under a deal stemming from the city’s bankruptcy.

The authority is overseen by a six-member board made up of one representative each from the state, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties and two from the city of Detroit — Gary Brown, who is also director of the Detroit water department, and Deputy Mayor Isaiah McKinnon.

In June, the authority’s board voted to lease the water and sewage system from Detroit for $50 million a year plus about $50 million a year toward pension costs and a fund to help struggling customers pay their bills.

The authority was made the water service provider for Detroit’s suburbs, while Detroit residents continue to be served by the city’s water department.

As part of the agreement, a 4 percent cap was put on the GLWA’s budget, meaning it cannot rise more than 4 percent. The authority projects its 2017 budget to total $795 million and forecasts its 2018 budget will be 4 percent higher, or $827 million.