City rebuts township’s history of dispute

ALPENA — The Alpena Municipal Council on Monday rebutted some of the claims Alpena Township officials made on Dec.19 about the two sides’ ongoing dispute over water and sewer rates.

A lawsuit over the matter was recently sent back into mediation by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Mediation will begin Jan. 14.

City Attorney Bill Pfeifer read a prepared statement on Monday that said that the township is still paying the same rates established in 2010 and township officials have not adhered to any increase since. He said the township pays a combined $6.39 per 1,000 gallons of water and sewer. Other customers of the city now pay $12.15 per 1,000 gallons.

Pfeifer said the township now charges it residents $9.59 per 1,000 gallons of water and $10.04 per 1,000 gallons of sewer, with a minimum of 7,000 gallons billed, whether that amount is used or not.

The city also disputed a claim by the township that the city walked out on 2017 mediation sessions on the first day.

The statement Pfeifer read Monday said that the township broke what was supposed to be a confidential process when it released a public statement about what was going on behind closed doors. Pfeifer said that act was enough for the city to not move forward with bargaining.

“It was not to be mediated in the public and it became apparent to the city that the township did not take the confidentiality issue seriously by having a press release on the same night in an apparent attempt to gain public support,” Pfeifer said.

After that, the city believed mediation would not produce results, so the matter ended up in court.

Earlier this year, 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack ruled on the case, dividing the money in an escrow account that was set up to hold and protect the amount of money the township owes the city in past-due balances. Mack, however, did not set rates and left that to the parties to find a rate that could please everyone.

Before that could happen, however, the city and township filed appeals.

Pfeifer also updated the city’s costs for the litigation and consultant fees. He said there has been about $694,523 spent on the matter. There was also a $110,000 payment made to Pfeifer outside of his normal retainer for city business to compensate him for his extra work on the water and sewer issue.

“Once again, the city looks forward to mediating the issues that exist in the dispute between the parties and is hopeful that mediation will be successful,” Pfeifer said.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpeanews.com.