Pleasant Ridge voters to decide on water infrastructure millage in November

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published October 12, 2021

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PLEASANT RIDGE — A big millage proposal will be on the ballot in Pleasant Ridge for the November election.

On Nov. 2, voters in Pleasant Ridge will vote on a water infrastructure millage proposal to levy a tax on residents for 30 years to pay for lead service line and water main replacements.

The millage on the ballot reads as follows: “Shall the City of Pleasant Ridge be authorized levy up to three and one half (3.5) mills per year, for years 2022 through 2051, in excess of its Charter authorized tax rate as reduced by Section 34, Article IX of the 1963 State Constitution, such additional millage to be used to finance water infrastructure projects including water main replacement and construction, public and private lead service line replacement, and associated restoration work within the City of Pleasant Ridge? It is estimated that 3.5 mills would provide $620,993 if levied in full in 2022.”

The lead service line replacements come from a statewide mandate as part of Michigan’s Lead and Copper Rule. The LCR requires every city in the state to replace all known lead lines.

The millage would be a new one levied on residents, not replacing any millage that came before it. Currently, the costs for the lead service lines and water main replacements are incorporated into water bills, but if the millage passes, the costs would be pulled out of the water rate and paid for by the millage.

City Manager James Breuckman said the amount each household pays would depend on the value of the property.

“The bottom line for each house is gonna be quite different, but if the millage passes, it’ll be about a 6 percent cost increase for each household,” he said.

Pleasant Ridge estimates the lead service line replacements to cost $8.4 million and the water main replacements to cost $16.5 million, for a total project cost of nearly $25 million.

The city is aiming to have 77% of lead service lines replaced by 2041, 90% by 2046 and the project done completely by its 30th year in 2051. Pleasant Ridge also will look to replace 20 of the 23 existing water mains by 2051.

While the first year of the millage in 2022 would bring in $620,993, Brueckman said the revenue the city gets “would be allowed to increase at the rate of inflation. So the total revenue would go up a small amount every year.”

Jason Krzysiak, a former city commissioner, now current resident, has been following along with other residents during this process.

Krzysiak said he has mixed feelings about the project. While he understands the mandate from the state to replace the lead service lines, Michigan is not mandating the same for the water mains and the combination of the two into one project has tripled its costs.

“My concern is that we’ve expanded the scope of the project to such a number financially that we do run the risk of putting a burden on our most vulnerable taxpayers and our most vulnerable water users,” he said.

An electrician for Ford Motor Co., Krzysiak bought his home in the city with his wife in 2001. Now 20 years later, he doesn’t know if, at the current market rates, he would be able to afford a home in Pleasant Ridge.

One of the things Krzysiak is concerned about is affordability and economic diversity in Pleasant Ridge.

“On the one hand, I’m worrying about the rising cost of living in Pleasant Ridge. On the other hand, I understand both through the communications that the city has made and time on City Commission that infrastructure is not cheap and that our water mains are 100 years old,” he said. “My initial best-case scenario would be that we would work towards replacing the lead service lines, but we would also work to design a timeline that coincided with other infrastructure projects, like say a future street reconstruction project.”

As of right now, Krzysiak said, he’s likely going to vote yes on the millage. He believes putting the cost on the tax rates will have a less severe effect on long-term residents who might be living on a fixed income and bought a home in Pleasant Ridge many years ago, and who would be adversely affected by increased water rates and a flat fee.

“If we are going to go down this route, if we are going to replace the water mains in conjunction with the lead service line mandate, then I feel that having these costs put on the taxes is the way to ensure our most vulnerable, lower-income residents, fixed-income residents are not being pushed out of our city,” he said.

Brueckman said that if voters decide not to approve the millage, then Pleasant Ridge would continue paying for the project through the water rates. He added that a lot of the conversation has focused around how the city pays for this project and what the best method would be, whether it’s through water rates, a flat fee on the water bill or the millage.

“Different households have different opinions about that because each one of those options costs each household, more or less,” he said. “The question is do the voters want to pay for this through a property tax millage, and if they don’t, then we’ll continue to pay for it on the water bills, and we’ll continue to look at the best way of proportioning those costs are through the water bills, whether that’s through water usage or a flat infrastructure charge that goes on the water bills. That would be determined after the vote in November.”

More information about the millage can be found at www.cityofpleasantridge.org/departments/water-and-sewer.

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