ALPENA - The City of Alpena and Alpena Township have been negotiating for months on a water plan that would establish new, and likely higher, water rates for the township. Little progress has been made, however, and things seemed to boil over last week when during its meeting the township board of trustees turned down a request to take part in a joint meeting to clear the air and agree on a direction moving forward.
Upon learning of the township's decision, Mayor Matt Waligora took it upon himself to have a conversation with Township Supervisor Marie Twite to see if he could coax a change of heart from the township.
Waligora was successful and, after Twite contacted the trustees, a meeting was scheduled for Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at the APlex. Waligora said he thought it was a good idea to reach out and provide a different voice other than those who have been involved at the negotiating table. He said he is hopeful that with everyone present an open line of communication can be found and the process can move forward more smoothly.
"I hope we can find and agree upon a clear path forward that both parties can agree on," Waligora said. "That hasn't come close to happening so far and I think by getting the township to agree to the meeting is a huge hurdle that was cleared. I don't expect any finalized agreements on the water issue, but maybe just find a path to follow forward."
Twite said she expects at least one proposal at the meeting, but said the trustees more than likely will take the idea with them to the board's meeting Feb. 3 to take a closer look at it and discuss the matter. She said the board already has turned down one proposal from the city that would have made the water and sewer system unified.
For more than 30 years there has been a contract between the city and township that figured the water and sewer rates via a complicated formula. Twite said she hopes the city will consider moving forward with the way rates have been set in the past.
"The current agreement has worked for all of these years," Twite said. "I know our residents pay a steep cost to get water and sewer, but we are willing to sit down and listen. I need to look out and make sure whatever is agreed upon won't have a negative effect on my community."
Waligora said there are several options that could be explored. He said one is a unified system and another is to have an authority formed similar to the Montmorency-Oscoda-Alpena Solid Waste Management Authority for the landfill in Atlanta, which would regulate the system and fees. Waligora said tweaks to the contract and formula are also possible.
He said right now the most important thing is to make sure both sides continue to communicate and the hostility between the two sides is minimal. He said when a deal is agreed upon, it must be one that will be beneficial to both sides for many years.
"Whatever we agree upon we need to make sure it doesn't put the future leaders of the township and city in the same predicament we are in now," Waligora said. "We have to be sure we find a solution that doesn't hurt one party or the other."
Wednesday's meeting is open to the public and residents will be allowed to make comment near the end of the meeting after some of the details about the proposal are made public. Twite said she expects there also will be a lot of comment at the township's next meeting as well.
"I'm going to ask the trustees if we can start the meeting an hour early just to be able to handle the comments," Twite said. "I have already been contacted many times and I think the people deserve to be able to come and express their thoughts and concerns to the board. After all, they will be the ones that could be impacted the most by this."
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