Water, sewer rates to rise in St. Clair Shores in 2017-18

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 14, 2017

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Residents will pay 6 percent more for water and sewer utilities beginning July 1 after City Council voted to pass through an increase from the Great Lakes Water Authority.

According to the memo provided to City Council members, the proposed rates are based on an updated 10-year rate study and capital project analysis that accounts for changes that the Great Lakes Water Authority, or GLWA, made in its methodology, which includes higher fixed fees and takes into account the city’s long-term infrastructure improvement plan and sanitary sewer system maintenance projects.

While residents currently pay $44.70 per 1,000 cubic feet of water consumed, the new rate will be $47.38. The base readiness service charge will increase from $16.08 to $17.10 per quarter, and the cost for sanitary sewage disposal will increase from $60.64 per 1,000 cubic feet to $64.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The increases go into effect for all billings after July 1.

City Manager Mike Smith said that almost half of the water charge from the GLWA is at a fixed rate now, so even though residents have water-saving appliances and faucets and don’t use thousands of gallons of water to keep their grass alive, the charge remains largely the same.

Because of that, he said, “Even with this increase in rates, we will still see a reduction in the fund balance in the utility fund for this year.”

He said city officials have discussed moving to more of a fixed-rate system as well, but feel that that might disproportionately impact single senior citizens, as they would then be paying about the same as a large family for water, regardless of use.

The 2017-18 budget will pay for $3 million in improvements to water infrastructure, $3.5 million in sewer maintenance to televise and clean the mains, repair high-priority lines and continue treatment programs, and provide $300,000 in storm sewer improvements. It also will continue the city’s hardship policy to help those who can’t afford to pay their water bills.

Councilman Chris Vitale said he doesn’t appreciate the continued increases from the GLWA. 

“That’s on top of a rate increase from the year before and the year before that,” he said.

He said he wants residents to know that St. Clair Shores has its hands tied when it comes to the seemingly annual rate increases.

“If we weren’t to pass it along, it would have to come out of the general fund. I do not like voting for this,” he said. 

Other council members agreed.

“It is very frustrating for us to deal with,” said Councilman John Caron. 

“We do have an aging infrastructure that we’ve committed to keep funding,” he added, pointing out that a water main scheduled to be replaced on 12 Mile Road this year dates back to 1927. “That’s the age of some of our infrastructure that we’ve got to take care of in the city.”

“This is one of the worst votes we have to take every year, because it doesn’t feel like we have a voice or a choice in it, and it just feels like we’re at the mercy of the Great Lakes Water Authority,” Councilwoman Candice Rusie said. 

Residents wanting to apply for the hardship program can call the Tax and Water Billing Department at (586) 447-3317 so they know what forms need to be brought to City Hall.