HOLLY, Michigan – In an attempt to bring Holly’s ailing water and sewer funds back into the black, elevated water and sewer rates went into effect on July 1. As a result, the cost increases have left many village residents hopping mad, struggling to pay bills, and questioning the details of the $18 million water and sewer bonds that began the village’s water woes in the first place.
Larry Lilly is a common fixtur...
During the Aug. 23 Village Council meeting, village resident Larry Lilly once again broached the topic, asking council to explain where the $18 million in sewer and water enterprise funds was spent.
In a public hearing held on May 17, Lilly posed the same question, alleging that village officials had somehow funneled some of the funds into the quest for cityhood and into developing the village’s then non-existent fire department.
Threatened by legal action on the part of council, Lilly was given 21-days to produce the documentation and/or evidence supporting his claim. Lilly complied, and after reviewing the information and performing an investigation into the matter, council later dismissed his allegations in June.
“My big problem here is the $18 million water and sewer debt,” Lilly said on Tuesday. “I want the facts where that $18 million water and sewer debt went – it was jammed down our throats,” he added. “Where did the $18 million go – can you tell me that now?”
Village President Jeff Miller said council was unable to answer the question because it was asked during the public comment segment of the meeting – a time when residents may speak while council is obliged to listen.
Resident Lee Krentzen said the new $48 base rate for water and sewer fees has caused her much financial hardship. “It just doesn’t seem fair for one person – me – to be paying the same base rate as a family of seven,” she said. Krentzen said as a result of the rate hikes, she has had to turn off other utilities like her telephone and cable service. Like Lilly, she also questioned how the $18 million in water and sewer enterprise funds was spent.
Miller suggested that Krentzen take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act by visiting the village offices and allowing village staffers to provide her with the information.
Holly Bush Drive resident Norm Ward asked Miller why council was unable to answer the question. “These people here are the people who are concerned and should be able to get an answer – can we get an answer at a future meeting?” he asked. “You don’t know where the money went?”
“Like any other project sir, a building, construction, a lot of people being paid to do the work, again, the interest – as a start, as with anything else like building a school, a lot of money goes into it,” Miller said. While Miller said he didn’t have the exact figures at his fingertips, he said that the information could possibly be provided at a future meeting, or that Ward could contact the village offices in the same manner suggested to Krentzen.
Miller said he knew of a couple from Fenton who had recently moved to Holly for lower water and sewer rates. “It’s not just us,” he said.
Additionally, Miller said he had discussed the water and sewer rates with Village Manager Jerry Walker, Director for Holly’s Department of Public Works, Brian Klaussen, and others. “Back in the middle of the 2000s – the last decade – there were several years in a row where council did virtually nothing about adjusting water rates,” Miller said. “My question was had we adjusted the water rates every year no matter what, where would we be today, and the answer was pretty much where we are now,” he said. “What has hurt is the slam dunk we had to do to lift things, because councils in the past did not look at it and we had to resolve it,” he added. “Unfortunately, several years’ worth came all at once.”
The topic would once again come to the forefront during the second chance for public comment. This time, resident George Kullis took the opportunity to set the record straight.
“I guess in defense of the council, and I’m having a hard time understanding it, especially with Mr. Lilly – they had a public hearing on this and we talked about it,” Kullis said referring to the May 17 meeting. “When they asked where the $18 million went, this was a bond issue – I wasn’t even living here at the time, but I know the answers to these questions, and I’m not quite sure why council hasn’t answered them tonight.”
Kullis said the bond money went toward the expansion of services for Pulte Homes scheduled to be built. “It’s my understanding that the mistake was at the time this agreement was made with Pulte Homes, we failed to get a surety bond against their performance,” he said. “The bottom line is the economy changed, they didn’t add the 700 homes – those lots are all sitting over there vacant, so we’re not colleting the money from the usage of that expansion.”
Kullis challenged Miller’s reasoning that it was the interest on the bonds that is costing village residents so much money. “The interest has been paid – the $18 million bond money was for the expansion of the system – the money was never collected because Pulte Homes did not complete their homes,” he explained. “It was the mistake of our council at that time, and perhaps through the attorney’s office – I don’t know all the details – but I know that if we had had a surety bond taken out against their performance, we wouldn’t be in this position.”
Acting village attorney Mike Gildner tried to shed some light onto why the surety bond was never obtained.
“Pulte wouldn’t agree to it,” he said. “I didn’t work on it – as many of you know, it was Dick Figura,” Gildner said of his colleague. “Dick Figura suggested it, but Pulte wouldn’t agree.”
Gildner said the deal was struck, and that the lack of surety bond was not an oversight on Figura’s part. “It certainly wasn’t an oversight on Dick Figura’s part because that’s a standard provision in something like this and all he can do is recommend it to the other side or not.”
Although Lilly was somewhat satisfied by Kullis’ and Gildner’s information, he still shouted from the audience. “Get the facts!” he said. “It’s always excuses.”
“I hear that people are moving out of Holly,” Miller said. “When I see the United States, where the hell are they not moving out of?” he asked. “They’re losing everything they’ve got – it may not be water, it may be a job.”
Miller blamed the banking system for the country’s struggling economy. “I wish that people would go to the banks into those interest only lines – those little Chihuahua mortgages in the last few years out of greed that has brought absolute catastrophe more than water and sewer,” he said. “The bottom line is – it is what it is. There is a cost and that’s all there is to it.”
Walker is expected to present an overview of the sewer and water bond issue during the Sept. 27 Village Council meeting.