ALPENA - The water and sewer rate increase approved by Alpena Municipal Council takes effect today, but customers will have a full billing cycle before they see a change in their billing. To help the public adjust to the increase the city is allowing an adjustment period that will allow customers an opportunity to gauge their consumption rates and make changes to use patterns.
City Engineer Rich Sullenger said the city wants to make the rate implementation hike as painless as possible for customers and to do that, the billing rates will not begin until later in the summer.
"Because it is a major change in billing structure we will go through a whole cycle before bills are issued with the new rate," Sullenger said. "It will allow people to have a chance for conservation measures or track how much they are using. The bills issued in May and June will not be at the new rate, the ones issued in July will."
The new rates will be $4.57 per 1,000 gallons for water and $5.17 for sewer for the same amount. In addition there will be a $15 "ready to serve" charge for each, as well as a quarterly billing charge of $2.88 each. People also can expect an operations and service fee of $6.34 per 1,000 gallons. A $7.90 debt service charge also will be added and the consumer will be responsible for an infrastructure replacement fee of $1.84 per 1,000 gallons.
United Water will continue to handle billing responsibilities on a quarterly basis. Sullenger said there are three separate billing cycles and not everyone receives bills at the same time. He said people who are billed in July will have the new rates because it will have been three months from the time the increase was approved by the council.
"Basically a third of the city is billed every month and since the announcement of the higher rates all three, quarterly billing cycles will have an opportunity to adjust and make accommodations," Sullenger said.
The new rates are only a partial increase to what was proposed by city staff and the balance will be implemented next year. The decision by council to put the rate increase in place in increments will have an impact on the capital improvement plans and repairs needed to the city's water and sewer system. If the full increase would have been implemented it would have generated about $1.9 million for system care. Sullenger said this year that number will slide to about $1.4 million but it is only an estimate because he expects people to conserve water to keep their bills down.
"We have already had to reduce what we had planned on doing next year significantly because we will have very limited capital," Sullenger said. "Right now we're playing it close to the vest because we don't know how much people will conserve. We do have to work on Grant Street that needs to be done and paid for and improvements at the water plant, the waste water plant, stuff we have to take care of. These are things we have put off, but really have to do now."
Sullenger said he believes people understand the increases and why they were necessary for the most part. He said anyone who is still confused or has questions can do via several avenues.
"People can still access the meeting videos on YouTube to learn more, visit the city's website where the information is posted, or call and talk to United Water or myself at city hall and we will explain what the rates are and what the potential impacts will be," he said.
For more information visit www.alpena.mi.us or call 354-1731.
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