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Marquette’s water, sewer, stormwater rates set to increase with commission approval

By CECILIA BROWN

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Marquette residents will be seeing increases in water, sewer and stormwater rates on their bills starting Dec. 1, bringing the total monthly bill for an average user from around $100 to over $110.

The Marquette City Commission approved the ordinances for water, sewer and stormwater rate increases at Tuesday’s meeting. The votes on ordinances regarding sewer and stormwater rates were unanimously approved, while the water rate increase ordinance was approved 6-1, with Commissioner Peter Frazier dissenting.

Under the adopted fiscal year 2020 budget, water utility rate-related revenues were proposed to increase by 12.25%; sewer rate-related revenues were proposed to increase by 11.5% and the proposed stormwater rate-related revenues were proposed to increase by 15.25%, according to public hearing notices.

This means an average customer using 4,000 gallons per month will have the water portion of their bill increase from $36.59 to $41.07 per month; the sewer portion of the bill will increase from $58.20 to $64.75 per month and the stormwater bill will increase from $4.78 to $5.51 per month, according to city documents.

For all three utilities combined, an average customer will have an increase of $11.76 a month, bringing the average total monthly bill to $111.33.

One resident expressed concerns during the public hearing about how the increased rates would be billed, as when the rates were raised last year, she said the four different billing cycles for city residents led to some customers paying for more days at the increased rate than others.

The commission asked city staff to speak to the matter. Marquette’s chief finance officer, Gary Simpson, said that the issues last year were largely due to the implementation of new water meter reading technology at the time and should be resolved this year.

It’s also important to recognize, Simpson said, that the ordinance has an effective date for the Dec. 1 billing, meaning that utility usage prior to Dec. 1 that appears on a bill issued on or after Dec. 1 will be charged at the higher rate. The city has worked this year to ensure that all usage before October should be billed prior to the Dec. 1 billing, he said.

“The best compromise we can have to try to make it fair — and the keyword is ‘fair,’ it’s not perfect — is to extend the effective date to Dec. 1,” Simpson told commissioners. “And that way we can pretty much be assured that all usage as of Sept. 30 will have already gone through the system. In fact, most people will already be into November.”

While commissioners said they understood rate increases were not popular or desirable, they emphasized the increases were needed to pay for the associated water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure as recommended in the 2020 budget as part of a multi-year plan developed by the city’s utility rate consultant, Raftelis.

The water rate increase is projected to raise an additional $581,000 in the city’s water fund, while the sewer rate increase is expected to raise $706,000 and the stormwater rate increase is projected to raise $228,000 in the respective funds.

It’s the second year in a row rates have increased as part of a five-year plan developed by Raftelis for the city, as these rate increases “are necessary to keep a balanced budget associated with the adopted FY 2020 budget” and to keep the respective water, sewer and stormwater funds solvent, city notes state.

Rates for stormwater and water were raised by the same percentages last year. While sewer rates increased by 25% last year, the proposed sewer rate increase for fiscal year 2020 is 11.5%, city officials said previously.

The increases are split between fixed charges and usage charges, Simpson said.

“With the Raftelis study, it’s a combination of increasing the fixed charge and the usage charge, so really everybody’s sharing in that,” Simpson said. “And the reason for raising the fixed charge is because what we were seeing prior is we could raise rates 10% but then we would see a 10% decrease in billable usage. So we gained absolutely nothing.”

However, commissioners commented they would like to work with Raftelis prior to the development of the next city budget to examine if the rate increases could be spread over a longer period of time to make year-to-year increases less dramatic.

“We’re doing this on a five-year time frame, but I want to understand what the consequences would be if we pulled that out and did it over eight years, 10 years,” Commissioner Jenn Hill said. “It’s a big chunk of money that we’re doing. I’m going to vote in favor tonight but I want to understand what that would mean for us.”

For more information on the ordinances and rate increases, visit marquettemi.gov.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal .net.

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