ROGERS CITY - Amid the backlash created by raising its water and sewer fees, Rogers City Housing Commission's executive director is figuring out how to foot the bill.
Sally Goupell, commission executive director, spoke to City of Rogers City Council members at their latest meeting about the impacts the city's public housing will face due to increased water fees. Previously, Hilltop Manor paid around $300 per month or less for water and sewer for 38 units and the building itself. When the city implemented a $10 capital fee some years ago, those increased to around $700 per month.
"That was staggering enough for us to budget," she said.
In July, city council members approved a compromise increase that would raise sewer and water fees for apartments to $35.13, and everyone else to $46.84. It was a marked decrease for some customers, one of whom would've paid $588.14 under a plan introduced with the city budget.
However, it's still an increase for most customers, including Hilltop Manor, Goupell said. This change will push her average bill to over $1,600 per month, an increase she calls "catastrophic."
With an annual budget of $188,270 of income, including an anticipated operating subsidy of $41,290, and expenses of $187,416, Hilltop Manor's budget was tight before the city approved the increases, Goupell said. The remaining $854 is completely wiped out by the fee hikes, plus some of the housing commission's reserves.
"In three years' time, (our fees) have more than quintupled, and our funding has gone down since then, so it puts us in a position of having to budget money from our reserves," she said. "In a year's time, that's $12,000 extra out of our reserves."
Eventually, the housing commission's reserves will run out, and Goupell will have no other options, she said. She's unable to collect any extra rent from her residents, as federal requirements limit her to charging 30 percent of their adjusted income, taking residents' out-of-pocket medical expenses into account. For some residents, that's as low as $50 per month, with a building median income level of $14,000 per year.
Goupell also is unable to get any extra money from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, she said. The federal agency provides an operating subsidy to Hilltop Manor, and has informed her she will have to work with the city to find a solution.
"The federal government is broke, we all know that," she said. "There's no way to say, 'We'll just give them more operating subsidy,' because there's no more money to give."
At the same time, Goupell understands why the city needs to charge to keep its infrastructure in working order, she said. She doesn't want to be seen as battling the city, and hopes to continue working with City Manager Mark Slown and others to find a solution.
Goupell will be at a Rogers City public workshop, where Slown and city council will discuss the new water fees, she said. It's at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 6, and she's hoping others whose families have benefited from Hilltop Manor will show up in support.
Slown and city council members have heard from Goupell and others, he said. The city supports Hilltop Manor, and has several ways it could work with the housing commission to help. The details are still in the works, and he'll discuss the situation more at the workshop.
"We're fully committed to making sure that whatever we do and however we do it, we want to see Hilltop Manner successful and survive," he said.