Sterling votes to lower water, sewer rates

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 19, 2022

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STERLING HEIGHTS — The dispute between Macomb County leaders and the city of Highland Park over water bills took a new turn recently, and Sterling Heights officials believe the results will offer some relief for residents’ wallets.

During an Aug. 3 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, all council members voted to amend the 2022-23 fiscal year budget and reduce residents’ water and sewer rates by 1% for bills starting Sept. 1.

At the meeting, Sterling Heights Finance and Budget Director Jennifer Varney called the timing of the city’s move unusual.

“We normally don’t adjust our water and sewer rates after budget adoption,” Varney said. “But recent events regarding the Highland Park bad debt issue have allowed the opportunity to recalculate the rates for this year.”

Sterling Heights officials said Highland Park has been in a water payment dispute with the Great Lakes Water Authority for years, and that dispute made its way into court. The GLWA is an organization with dozens of metro Detroit member communities who work together for the sake of getting water.

Varney said Highland Park hasn’t sufficiently paid its water bills, and that means that other GLWA members have had to compensate for that. Sterling Heights’s share of subsidizing Highland Park’s bad debt, she said, has been around $2.7 million in total over a decade.

Varney said Highland Park in previous years had been paying “at least a portion of their water bill,” but she added that at one point recently it had stopped doing even that to the GLWA.

Last spring, Highland Park City Administrator Cathy Square told the Sentry that her city had a settlement with the GLWA, and she added that in that settlement, “it had been determined that we had overpaid.”

So she said Highland Park was “deducting our overpayment from the current (amount) we’re paying” and “deducting from that credit we have.”

Square did not reply to emails asking for more recent comment.

Varney said that Sterling Heights, Macomb County and some other GLWA member municipalities reacted to Highland Park’s lack of payment.

In April, the Sterling Heights City Council resolved to withhold part of its 2022-23 payment to the GLWA, proportionate to the share of bad debt that it normally would’ve covered to compensate for Highland Park. The City Council also resolved to send a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that asked for her support in resolving the issue.

Varney added that some other municipalities backed a pressure campaign. And soon, Highland Park’s behavior changed, she said.

“Due in no small part to the actions of City Council and others, there has been movement in the litigation in favor of the GLWA, and Highland Park has resumed making at least partial payments. Due to these actions, the GLWA rolled back the portion of its rate increase that was due to the current year’s bad debt expense,” Varney said.

“The bottom line is that this lowered the current year’s water and sewer costs for the city by about $340,000, and we are able to pass that savings on to residents through a 1% decrease in the previously adopted water and sewer rates.”

In response to the news, Councilman Michael Radtke aired his approval of the plan at the meeting.

“Because the GLWA withdrew their request for us to pay for Highland Park water, we can now pass on the savings to the residents, since we should never have had to pay,” he said.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor also said he was happy that residents will benefit from saving money.

“We appreciate the trust our residents place in their city council, and our hope is to make sure Sterling Heights remains the community with the lowest average water and sewer rates among our surrounding area,” he said.

A Sterling Heights list of 2021-22 residential monthly water and sewer bills from Macomb County municipalities put Sterling Heights at $65, below neighbors like Warren, $72; Macomb Township, $73; Shelby Township, $79; Clinton Township, $90; and Utica, $107.

Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2489. Find out more about the Great Lakes Water Authority by visiting