Metro Detroit communities will experience an average increase of 1.7 percent in their water rates, but beleaguered Flint will experience a 21.2 percent plunge after the regional water authority approved charges for the next fiscal year.

Other communities that will see declining costs from the Great Lakes Water Authority are Wayne County's Inkster at 33.6 percent and Oakland County's Commerce Township at 24.8 percent. 

Among those seeing an increase in costs are Wayne County's Van Buren Township at 13.9 percent and Dearborn at 12.7 percent and Oakland County's West Bloomfield Township at 10.6 percent. 

The authority also approved a 1 percent increase for its drinking water and sewerage budgets during their June meeting — a hike that meets the authority's four percent budget cap. 

The change in charges varies with each community, Authority CEO Sue McCormick said. Rates are often affected by an increase in demand because of population and commercial growth, or the installation of storage that lets communities avoid having to take water from the system during peak hours, McCormick said. 

But the regional authority's charges are not the final amount residents will see on their bills. Communities set their own rates for customers based on municipal needs.

"People are making different choices and all of those things can contribute to use characteristic changes," McCormick told The Detroit News. "If you think of it as a pie..., the pie really isn’t getting any bigger … but the piece of the pie every community pays changes."

The charges cover the authority's operational costs including transmission pipes, pumping stations and paying the debt service on bonds issued to fund infrastructure improvements.

The rate drop for Flint occurred after the city's council members objected to having Flint rejoin the Great Lakes Water Authority in a 30-year deal. A federal judge ended up paving the way for the contract, supported by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, after the City Council repeatedly failed to meet deadlines about selecting a long-term water supplier.

Flint started getting treated water from the regional authority in October 2015 after the discovery of lead-contaminated water caused by a failure of city and state officials to get Flint River source water treated with corrosion-control chemicals. Flint residents for years have complained about paying what they consider expensive water rates.

The Great Lakes authority's board of directors approved a budget of $801 million —  up from 2018's $793 million and 2017's $795 million — and charges on June 20. 

The approved budget demonstrates "GLWA’s balanced approach to achieving near- and long-term financial sustainability," said Nicolette Bateson, the authority's chief financial officer and treasurer.

“This is achieved with controlled annual operating costs combined with a modest annual revenue adjustment dedicated to infrastructure investment and reduced reliance on debt," Bateson said. 

The Great Lakes authority was launched as part of the Detroit bankruptcy settlement in 2014. The state, Detroit and Oakland and Wayne counties agreed to turn over Detroit’s water and sewer system to the regional authority for the next 40 years.

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. 

McCormick said she is pleased with the authority's progress in keeping costs below the budget cap. 

"The authority is delivering on many of the promises that I believe the founding members saw when they launched the authority," she said.


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