November 19, 2017

Water rates going up in Standish July 1

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STANDISH — Water customers in the city of Standish with a 3/4-inch pipe can expect a significant increase in their monthly ready-to-serve charge July 1, as the cost is set to increase from $10.67 to $19.95.

The Standish City Council approved a resolution establishing new water rates for the next fiscal year during its April 11 meeting. The resolution was approved 6-1 with Councilman Mark Spencer voting no.

Along with the higher monthly charge, usage rates will also increase $1.10 to $8.25 per thousand gallons used.

City Manager Jerry Nelson and council members had warned about the increase several times in the past several months. Nelson said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was requiring municipalities to be more upfront with water system costs and asset management, and part of the stricter requirements called for accounting for long-term costs for maintenance and repair and loan repayments.

Nelson said the rate increase was compounded further by past city councils not raising the rates enough. He said the 2009 closure of Standish Maximum Correctional Facility by the state of Michigan left the city out to dry and the rates were never properly addressed between then and now. The prison made up a significant portion of the city’s water and sewer revenue.

“We didn’t really do what we needed to do,” he said. “We just did a little bit to kind of get us by at the time.”

Mike Engel of the Michigan Rural Water Association worked with city officials to complete a rate study to come up with a way to satisfy the DEQ and pay off the city’s water plant loan, which it will be paying on for about 20 more years. Taking all of that into account, Nelson said there were two options, but only one was feasible.

“You have two choices — you raise your rates to match that or you cut your expenses,” he said. “In our water department, we’ve already cut. We have a skeleton crew now.”

Prior to approving the new rates, the city council held a public hearing on the matter. Two business owners present at the meeting — Dennis Whitney of Whitney’s Laundromat and Mike Protasiewicz of Finish Line Auto Wash — voiced their displeasure with the rate increase.

Whitney said city council should attempt to make the state help Standish out in some way, as the city continues to feel the sting from the 2009 closure of the prison. Whitney said a lawsuit proposed by the city in the early aftermath of the closure, which was dropped, should be revisited.

“I think we still need to pick that lawsuit back up and sue the state of Michigan, because they put us in this position we’re in now,” he said.

“I don’t care what it takes but do something to help the citizens,” Whitney said. “Everybody’s going to be affected by this and these people are not rich in this town to take this big increase on this.”

Councilman Jacob Link said he would be on board if the city wanted to take that route, but questioned how strong its case would be eight years later and how much it could afford in legal fees to pursue the matter.

“I’m not opposed to doing it,” he said. “I’m wondering are we going to make things worse for us by doing it?”

Protasiewicz said there were other ways to meet his business’ water needs without using the city’s service and that while he has enjoyed using it, going forward it might not be feasible.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to,” he said. “There are other places for water.”

Protasiewicz said others may take a look at options, too, causing the rate increase to be counterproductive.

“You’re putting us in a dilemma too,” he said. “Always raising your rates isn’t always going to get you your money.”

City council members expressed their frustration with having to approve the rate hike.

“None of us wanted to see water rates go up,” Mayor Ray Koroleski said. “We’ve got to pay them too.”

“On this water rate increase, I feel your pain and I really do hope you can hang in there with us,” Councilwoman Vi Cook said.

“We’re all paying the bigger price,” she said. “The difference is with residential you can limit your use.”

Councilman Spencer said he felt there were potential water customers out there who should have city water, and if they did it could help lighten the burden.

“It just boggles my mind that we don’t have a pipeline going to that high school or that middle school,” he said.

“To me, that school needs city water,” Spencer said.

Link asked Engel how the city’s rates were compared with those of other municipalities, but Engel said that was not a good way to look at water rates.

“You really don’t want to compare your rates to anyone else,” he said. “You want to compare your rates to your needs for your system.”

Other municipalities might have lower rates now, but they would be raising them soon, Engel said.

“You may be raising your rates before Pinconning or everybody else, but they’re going to raise theirs before Jan. 1,” he said.

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