Commissioner Hendrick questions details in ordinance
By Barb Pert Templeton
A majority of the Marine City Commission approved a 2.75 percent water rate increase for residents at a May 5 special meeting that included a public hearing on the matter. Commissioner Lisa Hendrick voted no on the issue.
No one spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting but Hendrick posed several questions about the ordinance. She said in the past there would be a special spreadsheet showing a three-year average rate for water use but she didn’t see it in her packet.
Henrick went on to state that there was no rate increase last year for several reasons including COVID money the city received and a surplus in the fund they don’t normally have in place. “My only concern is whether this is going to be enough, whether it was calculated property and whether we used that three-year average from the spreadsheet that is always used in this process., she said.
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“No, I don’t know where the three-year spreadsheet is,” City Manager Holly Tatman replied.
She said she spoke with DPW Superintendent Mike Itrich, then included inflation, contract costs going up, and the fact that there was no increase last year in creating the new rates.
“The 2.75 is the bare minimum of what we can do to continue to make ends meet, we will not be making any big profit let me tell you, this is probably barley going to scratch the service and get us to where we need to be,” Tatman said.
Hendrick said if the city doesn’t collect enough then those dollars will come out of the general fund later. Tatman said should that happen, she will come back to the commission for a budget amendment, but at this point, she didn’t want to “sticker shock anyone” and was trying to find a balance.
She also stated that she would like the city to do a water study over the next year so they can capture a clearer idea of what’s happening and then make the information available to the public.
Details shared at April 21 meeting
The topic had previously been discussed in more detail at the commission’s regular meeting on April 21.
“With the economy being the way it is, our costs have gone up exponentially for any chemicals we need for treatment at the plants,” Tatman said.
She also stated that the city’s contract with the company that operates the water and sewer plant had gone up by four percent so they are really only passing a portion of that off to the residents.
“We thought that was fair to work out the differences and break even,” she added.
Mayor Cheryl Vercammen asked Tatman to explain a little bit about how the loss of big businesses affects local water bills for residents.
“You have to have a big business, big users in the community, to help balance the difference, somebody has to pay for it, it cannot be a free service,” Tatman said.
“Because the structures stay the same, water pushing is water pushing,” Vercammen added.
Tatman said costs go up and if municipalities don’t have a lot of new revenue sources to get the income to replace those increases costs are pushed onto the users.
“It’s a fair assessment, it’s the economy, it’s supply and demand,” Tatman said.
City Attorney Robert Davis said under the Federal Water Clean Act there’s an obligation by the municipality to maintain a level of service of the operation, whether people are paying or not paying, they still have to make sure the system functions correctly.
“If we were down to one person, they have to pay the whole thing because it has to function, that’s an obligation you have under Federal law,” Davis said.
Keeping that in mind it is best to try and attract big business aka larger water users because they take a larger percentage of the costs and it offsets citizens drinking water costs, he said.
Positively breeds new business
Vercammen said the issue all goes back to the conversation of attracting new business, keeping things positive, and having a positive board – it all plays a part.
“Because who pays the price, the residents do, the same people that say I’m here to help the taxpayers if you have a negative impact and you allow negativity to come in it does not attract new business,” Vercammen said.
“No, they will go elsewhere,” Tatman added.
Hendrick said it seemed like passing the increase now was premature because the city normally addresses it during the budget. Davis said it was a first reading of the ordinance change and they were simply trying to get things in place so the increase can take effect by July 1.
Hendrick then said the city’s charter requires a public hearing to be held as well to which Davis replied that it could be held as part of the second reading of the ordinance on May 5.
Hendrick also asked that the numbers be broken down so residents can see exactly what the increase will be for them and Tatman agreed to include that information for the second reading and public hearing.