City Council voted 3-1 Monday night to increase the sewer rate 11 percent in 2018, and 8 percent in both 2019 and 2020. The water rate increases 5 percent each year through 2020.
"These are increases that I can live with," Mayor Geri McCaleb said.
The current sewer rate is $4.78 per 1,000 gallons used and $2.38 per 1,000 gallons for water. City officials say the rates are lower than many Michigan communities, which has affected the ability to operate, maintain and support infrastructure replacement and improvement projects.
"You have to pay for what you get," McCaleb said. "Increases are never popular, but costs go up."
The new rates are set at less of a hike than those noted in the city’s recently conducted water and sewer rate study, which initially called for a 12 percent increase for sewer and 8 percent increase for water for five years. After five years, 2.5 percent inflationary increases were projected.
Councilman Bob Monetza, who voted against the measure, said he was disappointed that the increases didn't go as far as the study suggested, which were designed to accomplish the City Council’s goal of sustainably funding future infrastructure improvements.
“This is not the way to do it,” he said. “Going back to these minimal increases is the way we did it for years and years and years.”
Monetza noted that making fewer dollars available for infrastructure funding means they’re "kicking the can down the road" and sticking additional costs for infrastructure repair on future generations.
"The rates should be based on what it costs to run the system," he said.
McCaleb, however, noted that there were other issues to consider when setting the rates, such as the way the increases would affect people on fixed incomes and residents trying to keep their property looking nice.
"I don't want to make it so expensive to live here and make it a huge burden that they can't afford it," she said.
Maintaining yards in good condition increases the value of a community, McCaleb said. Once you lose your yard, it becomes expensive to get it back in good condition, she noted.
“I don’t think it enhances the look of our community if we make it expensive to maintain a nice yard,” she said.
Councilman Dennis Scott, who supported the rate hikes, said he wants the city to do more to spread awareness about separate water meters for lawn and garden sprinkling.
"We need to educate people how much people can save by adding a (sprinkling) meter," he said. "I think it's a substantial savings, and people that water their grass need to know that."
Scott also noted that he'd support the city giving residents a year to finance the purchase of the meters.