Utica and Shelby to discuss water double charging issue

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 28, 2019

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The city of Utica and Shelby Township are discussing a change to a long-standing practice between the two communities involving water charges.

During the Shelby Township Board of Trustees meeting Oct. 15, Utica Mayor Thom Dionne approached the board and requested the possibility of changing how residents along the border of the the two communities are charged. Some residents of Utica receive water and sewer services from Shelby Township, and some residents from Shelby Township receive their water and sewer services from Utica, and these residents are double charged for it.

“We have a practice between the Shelby Township and Utica residents where our water bills at the border are doubled for some residents,” Dionne said. “If you have Shelby water or Utica water and you live on the other side of the border from that municipality that services you, you are a resident whose water bill is instantly doubled because you live on the wrong side of the fence.”

He said that there are about 71 Shelby Township residents who receive sewer services from Utica, and eight nonresident customers who receive water and sewer services from Utica, and their rates are doubled because they live in Utica rather than Shelby Township. Dionne said that 35 Utica residents are receiving water and sewer services from Shelby Township, and 59 Utica residents are receiving sewer services only from Shelby Township. Dionne also said that every commercial property near Best Buy is also receiving a double rate because they receive services from Shelby Township but are located in Utica.

“Today, members of the board, Mr. Stathakis and trustees, I am asking for us to have an agreement to work together to resolve these issues. The practice is old — very old. Long before any of us were board members, this came about. In my opinion, it is almost a penalty for living on the wrong side of the border,” Dionne said.

He requested a meeting between the two municipalities’ attorneys, engineers and department of public works superintendents.

“I would propose that we have a ready-to-serve charge for our nonresidents that may reflect a nonresidential fee, because these nonresidents don’t pay taxes to help maintain the infrastructure, which is reasonable that we charge them a bit more perhaps, but doubling the rate is an easy and snapshot decision that needs to stop,” he said.

“I feel very strongly and passionately about this, and I would appreciate your kind consideration in this matter,” Dionne told the township board.

Dionne was joined by a few other members of the Utica City Council and Utica residents.

Utica Mayor Pro Tem Ken Sikora, who has been on the Utica City Council for 30 years, also addressed the township board during the meeting.

“This double billing practice has been in effect for over 30 years. We’re asking to make it fair not to just Utica residents, but also to the Shelby residents that are also being affected by these rates. Utica has an agreement with Sterling Heights where we supply them, they supply us, on our southern border, and we just charge equal rates, and it’s been that way for over 30 years. So, whether it’s an equal rate or a little bit more to cover capital improvements … we just don’t want to penalize the residents anymore,” said Sikora.

Shelby Township Attorney Rob Huth explained why residents are being double charged.

“The reason Utica ratepayers are paying more for service than Shelby ratepayers is because when those homes went in and when the infrastructure was needed in the southern part of the township near Home Depot there, off of Hall Road, those ratepayers, not having been Shelby residents, never contributed to the infrastructure that built the system. So the thought was, I think it was called the 425 agreement, the thought back then was, ‘Hey, if you’re going to take this service, you should pay for the cost for this infrastructure.’”

Rick Stathakis, the Shelby Township supervisor, said that with the township currently facing a class action lawsuit over its water rates, the township needs to proceed carefully in addressing this issue with Utica. Huth elaborated on that point.

“We need our experts to let us know what a reasonable rate is to charge Utica so that we don’t have that issue thrown up in our face in a lawsuit that is asking for in excess of $10 million from our community,” Huth said. “So it’s very serious. We have to go forward appropriately, but as the supervisor has directed us, we need to move it forward quickly, so we have started the ball rolling, and the township will look at what the right rate is, and this board will respond accordingly.”

He said that they do not have to wait for the class action lawsuit to be over to work on the issue with Utica.

“If we can get our experts to weigh in ahead of time, I think it would be appropriate,” he said.

Huth said that he would consult with the township board and talk to Utica when they get to that point.

Gus Calandrino, a Utica city councilman, attended the meeting and called it “productive” in an email.

“The township attorney was receptive to our request and seemed to agree that the current double billing policy needs to be reviewed,” Calandrino stated.

“We look forward to working with Shelby Township to find a solution that is equitable for all of our collective water customers.”

For more information about the water double charge issue, call the city of Utica at (586) 739-1600 or Shelby Township at (586) 731-5100.

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