City continues to talk water, sewer rate hikes

Alex Doty • Jun 5, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Grand Haven’s leaders continue to weigh possible increases to the city’s water and sewer rates.

The discussion follows a study that looked at the city's current rates and how they compared to other communities in Ottawa County, and ways to pay for future infrastructure improvements based on possible rate changes versus issuing debt.

"The study was completed in 2018," City Finance Director Jim Bonamy said. "The result of that study pointed to 8 percent each year over five years for water and 12 percent each year over five years for sewer to meet infrastructure funding goals."

Based on the study, the rate increases would begin July 1, 2019. After the initial five-year period, the proposed increase for each rate would be in the 5 percent range.

Some on City Council raised concern Monday night about the severity of the rate hikes. As a result, city officials noted that they would look at an increase of around 7 percent for water and 11 percent for sewer each year over three years. The plan would be brought to council for approval at the June 18 meeting and, if approved, the increase could likely begin this coming July 1.

"I can live with 7 (percent) and 11 (percent) over three years and coming back with some real evidence for where we need to go," Bonamy said.

Mayor Geri McCaleb said there was a lot to be said about not adding debt to the city by paying for water and sewer upgrades with rate increases versus borrowing.

"For so long, these things weren't addressed and now we are playing catch-up," she said.

However, the mayor said she was worried about what affect the originally proposed rate increase might have on those in need, senior citizens and people on limited or fixed incomes.

"It's a heavy burden for some folks," she said. "This isn't the only thing that's going up."

Councilman Dennis Scott said he was also concerned with the original increases and how they might affect the city.

"I don't think those kinds of increases are good for our community," he said. "We do need to increase rates, but not so fast. Slow it down a little bit. ... Fifty percent over five years is a little bit much for me."

Councilmen Josh Brugger and Bob Monetza were both in favor of the planned increases, and both were also in favor of beginning the increases this year instead of in 2019.

“It doesn’t get smaller,” Monetza said of the list of projects needing to be done. “When you slow down, it gets bigger, faster.”

Brugger noted that he liked the plan to increase water and sewer rates versus passing a millage to pay for fixing the city’s public utilities, as it gives residents a choice to use less water to lower their rates.

“When we pass a millage, we take away that choice,” he said.

City residents currently pay $2.38 per 1,000 gallons for water and $4.78 per 1,000 gallons for sewer each month. There is also a $4.17 ready-to-serve charge that residents pay each month for water and for sewer.

City officials have noted that Grand Haven’s infrastructure needs are being held back from completion due to low water and sewer rates, which have restricted available funds for operations, maintenance and capital reconstruction.

"If you want to do things, you've got to come up with the money," Bonamy said. "If you don't want to do things, you don't have to come up with the money."

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