2010-06-27 / Front & Center

Lapeer approves sewer rate increase

Rate hike takes effect Aug. 1 in city
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — Flushing toilets in Lapeer is going to get more expensive in Lapeer come Aug. 1.

That’s when new sewer rates approved by the Lapeer City Commission Monday go into effect.

Commissioners voted 4- 1, with Commissioner A. Wayne Bennett dissenting to increase the city’s sewer rate by 28.5 percent.

City Manager Dale Kerbyson told commissions the new rate was needed “to cover the cost to operate the system.” He explained “The sanitary sewer system is a enterprise fund and it is by ordinance required to cover its own expenses.”

The new rate means a residential customer in the city using 3,335 gallons of water a month will see their bill climb from $22.84 a month to $30.11,

That didn’t sit well with Bennett, who also voted no earlier to a resolution to issue sewer revenue bonds to upgrade the city’s aging sewer plant.

“It’s not a good time to do it, it just isn’t,” said Bennett.

“As much as I’d like to say no,” said Commissioner Mike Robinet, “by ordinance we have a budget we have to balance ... I wish there was some other way of doing this, but there isn’t (as far as) I can see.”

“To say this isn’t a good time to do it,” said Commissioner Daniel Farrington, “unfortunately that’s what previous commissions have said for the last 20 years and that’s why we’re behind.”

Under pressure from the state Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment, the city has developed a plan to expand and upgrade its sanitary sewer system. To pay for that plan, the city has approved issuing $11 million in sewer revenue bonds.

Kerbyson told commissioners the city came under DNRE scrutiny because, “We have had for a number of years, but most recently, it’s become more and more frequent, sanitary system overflows” allowing untreated sewage to get into the Flint River.

He said working with the DNRE what was originally going to be a $35 million project was scaled back to an $11 million project. Kerbyson noted the city was able to trim $1 million off the project through grants for its Saginaw Street project, which should be finished by Lapeer Days.

“Nobody wants to spend the money, especially in these tough economic times,” said Sprague, but he added the city has come up with a much less costly project than it could have been, if it had waited for a DNRE-ordered project.

“It wasn’t a good time to raise rates,” said Commissioner Deborah Marquardt, “and it wasn’t a good time to raise rates two years ago, that’s why we put it off. We did the same thing when we had to raise the water rates way back in 1985 or 87. We have no choice, we have to bite the bullet.”

Mayor Bill Sprague noted that previous commissions hadn’t raised sewer rates to deal with infrastructure issues between 1985 and 2002. That he said, “was not only fiscally irresponsible,” but put it on the backs of future generations as well.

“We’ve got to the point now where we must pay for it and we must pay for it going forward. It’s not one of these things we can lay on the generations of the future. We’ve got to pay for what we use as we go along.”

“Everybody needs to know,” said Bennett, “that this is not the last increase you’re going to get this year. When the Detroit water rates are increased in a month or so, you’re going to see another increase.”

“Water is strictly a pass through,” said Sprague. “We only pass through to the customers the rate by which we’re charged from the City of Detroit.” He noted that the city has agreed to have the Greater Lapeer Utilities Authority investigate Genesee County’s plan to draw water from Lake Huron, but even if that plan is approved, it will be a decade or more before Lapeer sees the first drop of water from that system.

Noting that while Detroit’s water usage has fallen off, without a drop in base expenses, Sprague predicted Lapeer will see a water rate increase from the city this year.

“They’ve already announced it. They will go up for suburbs as much as 12 to 14 percent,” said Bennett.

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