ALPENA - In August 2012 Alpena Municipal Council spent almost $25,000 to have a water and sewer rate study conducted and to have the water and sewer agreement between the city and Alpena Township explored. During a special council meeting on Tuesday Gosling Czuback will share its findings, as well as make a recommendation on what action the council consider.
Currently the city has the second lowest water and sewer rates in the 20 northern Michigan communities sampled. The city charges $3.80 per 1,000 gallons of water and an additional $4.54 for each 1,000 gallons of sewage. By comparison the city only charges the township $2.906 for water and $3.474 for sewer. The township adds on its own charges to help offset its cost in maintaining its own systems.
The agreement, which has been in place since 1977, has had a few subtle changes made to it over the last 36 years. It is a complicated contract council has considered altering for some time. Mayor Matt Waligora said the decision to hire Gosling Czuback was a way to have someone not associated with the city or township research the rates and agreement and to make suggestions.
"We wanted to have an independent party look at the rates and agreement. This meeting will allow them to present the findings and for us to ask questions, which I'm sure we'll have. I hope to come away with a timeline, but there will be no action taken, only discussion," Waligora said. " When the time comes to negotiate the city and the township will sit down at the table and talk. Everyone needs to be involved. There will be a lot to consider and getting the report is only the first step."
Waligora said he has read the agreement and admitted it is complicated and difficult to read and comprehend. He said there have been some tweaks made to it over the years including a revision in 1988. Waligora said he's not sure if there will be price increases in the city or in the township, but said he believes the township would like to have the agreement cleaned up as well.
"I really don't want to speculate on what the rates will be for the township or for the residents of the city will be, but I will say there needs to be changes made to the agreement. I don't think either side is really happy with it," Waligora said. "At this point I have had very little personal contact with the township, but I know the staff has. I will work with the township and I won't allow for this to play out in the media. I'm not going to tell somebody something the township doesn't know."
Despite a 10 percent increase in water fees and 5 percent in sewer in 2012, the water and sewer rates in the city are only higher than Mackinaw City. The highest fees are issued by Harbor Springs. Having such low rates is good for the people, but there are disadvantages as well. Waligora said having low fees result in less money in the water and sewer fund, which is where money for system maintenance, repairs and upgrades comes from. It is a well known fact the city's infrastructure is old and major renovations are needed, but the funds are not available to make the needed improvements. Raising prices could help in that regard. Waligora didn't show his hand in whether price increases were on the horizon.
If a break occurs in the township it is the responsibility of the township to pay for the needed repairs, thus additional fees. Township Supervisor Marie Twite said the township just had a large increase in the price the city charges it for water and sewer service and another hike will be a large burden on the people in the township. Currently the people living in Alpena Township pay $6.93 per 1,000 gallons of water and $7.19 for sewer. Twite said the added fees are necessary for many reasons, including the fact the township pays the city for all the water it treats, not just what it purchases. She said she believes this is unfair.
"If there is a fire in the city or a water main break the township has to pay for the water that was used in those situations," Twite said. "We pay for every drop of water production in their system. If we have a break or a fire they aren't paying for our use. At some point we will have to look into getting our own water and sewer facilities, because the people in the township can't afford to keep paying such high prices. If we are going to subsidize a water and sewer system it might as well be our own."
Twite said the last time prices were increased the city didn't negotiate at all. She said the township will be more than happy to work with the city, as long as any deal is fair.
Tuesday's meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com