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Macomb Township

Township board sets 2013-14 water/sewer rates

October 2, 2013

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The township’s water and sewer rates are increasing this year, but residents will still pay considerably less than people in neighboring communities.

On Sept. 25, the Macomb Township Board of Trustees unanimously approved the new rates for the 2013-14 fiscal year that were recommended by the township’s Water and Sewer Department. According to Township Engineer Jim Van Tiflin, these higher rates are the result of increases passed down by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the Macomb County Wastewater Disposal District.

The water rate will rise from $2.75 per unit — defined as 100 cubic feet of water, Van Tiflin said — to $2.98 per unit, while the sewer rate will jump from $2.62 per unit to $3.01 per unit. For the average Macomb Township customer, these changes will result in a $4.27 monthly cost increase for their water supply and a $4.22 monthly cost increase for disposal of their sewage.

The new rates are effective retroactively as of July 1 of this year.

As Van Tiflin explained at the meeting, “The next (water and sewer) bills will be going out in October. We want to make sure we get this done now so that those bills reflect the new rates that we’re being charged by our suppliers.”

Van Tiflin pointed out that Macomb Township’s combined water and sewer rate compares favorably with that of its neighbors in Clinton, Shelby, Chesterfield and Washington townships. Despite this year’s rate increases, the township’s combined rate of $5.99 per unit is still more than $1 lower than the average rate of those four communities, which stands at $7.05 per unit for 2013-14.

For Van Tiflin, these numbers are a strong indication that the township is “still running things pretty efficiently” at its Water and Sewer Department, even as Macomb’s population has continued to skyrocket.

According to Township Supervisor Janet Dunn, a big reason for these lower rates is because the township has made consistent improvements to its water and sewer system over the years, and officials are always looking for new opportunities to upgrade. For instance, last month, the Board of Trustees voted to apply for a Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that could be worth up to $2 million and would help the township expand its sanitary sewer system.

“I think we’ve kept up our infrastructure really well and taken action before small issues turn into bigger problems,” Dunn said in a subsequent interview. “We’ve done a lot of preventive maintenance and repairs to put ourselves ahead of the curve. That’s allowed us to keep our rates low and cut down on problems like water main breaks.”

The township has accomplished this goal through the money that it collects on top of the rates charged by Detroit and Macomb County — although those numbers represent just a fraction of the overall cost. Van Tiflin noted that only 14 percent of the total water fees and 9 percent of the total sewer fees paid by customers go toward the township’s internal operations. Still, those small percentages have proven to be highly effective in the long run.

According to Township Clerk Michael Koehs, “We set aside a certain percentage of our water and sewer fees ... so that we’re not passing the cost of these system repairs down to our grandchildren. If we want to maintain a strong water and sewer system, then we have to make sure that we have enough money available to keep it up.”

Even though these yearly water and sewer rate increases can be frustrating for residents, Koehs is a firm believer that making incremental changes is a far better strategy than the alternative. While other communities sometimes choose to postpone the price hikes imposed by their suppliers, absorbing the cost in the short term in order to ease the burden on their taxpayers, Macomb Township has always embraced the pay-as-you-go approach.

“If you skip these rate increases and put them off for a year or more, then later down the road, you have to hit people with a huge jump,” Koehs said. “So it’s just easier to pass the increase through every year and not fall behind.”

Dunn agreed.

“We’re not raising the rates because we want to — it’s all part of a well-thought-out plan,” she said. “If you keep up with these increases every single year, then people don’t feel the impact as much. But if you wait to (raise your rates) until you’re desperate, that’s when people are going to get upset with you.”

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