HOLLY, Michigan – A shortfall of approximately $182,000 in the sewer fund is to blame for Village Council’s decision to hike sewer rates, effective in March.
The last increase for sewer services occurred in July 2009, when village officials increased consumption rates from $6.56 per 1,000 gallons to $8.70 per 1,000 gallons with a $10 service fee per household.
Water rates continue to hold steady at $6.60 per 1,000 gallons of water.
Councilman Don Winglemire, chairman of the Public Works Committee, made the recommendation for the latest increase during the Village Council meeting Tuesday.
“As you all know, we have quite an investment in these areas, and of course the investment has to be paid for,” Winglemire said. “The good news is that we’re not asking to change the usage funds of sewer or water and also not the usage fee for water.” In a vote of 2-1, Winglemire said it was the committee’s recommendation to tack an additional $5 per month fee onto sewer rates.
Village President Pete Clemens, who also serves on the Public Works Committee, said he joined Winglemire in voting “yes” on the issue. “It makes me ill every time I have to do this,” Clemens said. “But there really is no choice – the bonds must be paid.”
Rather than raising consumption fees, Village Manager Marsha Powers said the debt service fee is a way of raising monies from unoccupied homes. “When we increase the debt service fee, you’re hitting the unoccupied homes and that's where we don’t have usage, so increasing usage would not benefit us from those vacancies,” she said. Powers did say, however, that the village would be revisiting consumption rates after July 1.
Powers told council members that she had contacted the attorney and legal representatives for the bonds, Miller Canfield to inquire about refinancing. Powers said she was told municipalities could only refinance when it was “economically feasible.”
“Right now they’re saying it’s not economically feasible, but there is legislation that is currently before the House and the Senate to look at allowing communities to do this because we’re all in the same boat with everyone else – nobody has enough money to pay bonds out on water and sewer projects,” she said.
Before the vote, village resident Lenore Johnson said, “I love the town, but the taxes are exorbitant, and the sewer and water really has me upset. I know there were a number of people in my neighborhood that were not being charged for one or two or perhaps three of their water meters, and I can’t understand how that could happen.”
Having moved to Holly a little over a year ago from Waterford, Johnson made a comparison.
“I’m a two-family house and my water bill monthly is exceeding what I paid quarterly in Waterford,” she said. “I think for senior citizens it’s getting to be a very big expense – I know council is in a difficult place, but as a resident, I would like to voice my concern and my objection.”
“For the record, I opposed (the sewer increase) because I do not think that we can afford to have any higher water bills,” Councilman and Public Works Committee member Bill Kuyk said. “We’re really between a rock and a hard place, but we have to pay the bonds.”
With a motion by Winglemire and a second by Councilwoman Pauline Kenner, council approved the rate increase in a vote of 6-1, with Kuyk casting the dissenting vote.