By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – Mayor Stacy Bazman and Department of Public Works Director Larrie Ordus urged the City Council to address rising water rates, but those running for re-election were hesitant to raise rates.
Bazman, who is term-limited, urged the council to address the urgent need to fund replacement of city water pipes, which lose a large volume of water due to deterioration, the cost of which must be passed on through residential water bills.
With the Great Lakes Water Authority once again raising its water rates, city officials were urged to reflect the rate increase in water bills, instead of using city reserves to shelter residents from the rate increase.
Current Council members Nicole Barnes and Wheeler Marsee are running for mayor, along with Bazman’s son Ian Striz. Steve Densmore is the only incumbent council member running for re-election.
The council refused to bring a final water rate increase proposal to the table at its June 19 meeting to increase residential water rates, perhaps fearing election year repercussions.
Ordus said GLWA raised the city’s water rate by 2.5 percent, with a 2.2 percent increase for the sewer rates.
He said this is a lot less than the increase GLWA originally proposed, and that other communities’ rates are getting raised, too. He said Lincoln Park was getting a 2.5 percent water rate increase as well.
“I am not happy about it,” Ordus said. “My water rates are going to go up. But you are going to have to maintain your assets, and as you know, everybody’s assets Downriver are old, deteriorated, and I know you don’t want to raise this, but next time I will be up here asking for 6 percent because we have to have money in the bank, because things go bad and you have to fix things.”
Ordus said the state is requiring the city to install another million-gallon tank at the city’s pump station, for which the city needs to budget.
“You’ve got water mains that are deteriorating,” Ordus said. “You have got good service here now, and we try to provide the residents — because the water bills are somewhat high — with excellent service, and we do not charge to go check a leak out.”
He said the city is putting in new water meters, and putting in backflow prevention valves for customers at no charge because the current city council is funding the DPW at adequate levels.
“I hope you look at this with an open mind,” Ordus said to the council members. “It is happening everywhere. It is not just in Melvindale.”
Bazman said it is important to attach the monetary impact that the GLWA rate increase would have on residents.
“It would cost residents approximately 98 cents a month additional with the (GLWA) increase,” Bazman said. “So, it would be less than $1 a month.”
Ordus said that in the wake of the Flint water crisis, mandates are being frequently passed which impact communities.
“We have to change all our lead (pipe) services all the way to the homeowner’s house, and we are talking $1 million just to try to do that,” Ordus said. “Where are we going to be able to get that money? I am sure we are not going to be able to borrow that money. You have to take care of your assets.
“Even though it is going to hurt, and people are going to complain, the only thing we are doing is trying to stay level with GLWA. I just want the customers to know that we have done everything we could possibly do not to have this done.”
Ordus said he just wants to break even, but there is a lot of infrastructure in the city’s water system that is deteriorating and could cost the city millions of dollars in emergency repairs.
He asked the council to propose a resolution to pass the GLWA rate increases on to the customers, but the council failed to propose a motion.
Ordus reminded the council that there are still many water meters, including commercial meters, which still need to be changed out.
Bazman said if the city fails to invest in its water infrastructure system, its water rates will never decrease, because of the water loss which occur in with the system’s deteriorating pipes, and because the crews continue to fix water main breaks.
Bazman said city officials can propose a bond for water infrastructure work, and the city can apply for grants for distressed cities. She said the smart water meters the city installed to date were made possible through grant funding.
“You can’t control your water loss until you repair your system,” Bazman said. “And if we don’t have the money to repair our system, you are never going to address your water loss.”
She added that this was an issue that must be addressed by the next city administration.
“You are always going to have that base unit, because you have to be able to account for that water that is seeping through the cracked pipes underground,” Bazman said.
The city is close to the source of the water supply, so when system pressure is increased to reach suburbs which are at a greater distance, the water pressure increase causes the old water mains to crack and break, causing even more water to leak from the incoming water mains into the ground.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)