Three Rivers water, sewer rates expected to spike next fiscal year

(City of Three Rivers Wastewater Treatment Plant)

Unfunded mandates from state, local projects cited as reasons for increase

Water and sewer rates in the City of Three Rivers are expected to increase in 2021-2022 as a result of unfunded mandates from the state related to lead water lines and water treatment, as well as local infrastructure projects slated for the next couple of years.

Following the Flint water crisis, Michigan cities are required to replace all lead pipes in their water systems over the next 20 years, and at this time local municipalities are expected to foot the bill with no help from the state.

Three Rivers will not remove any lead lines in 2021-22 because they need to find them all first.

Mayor Tom Lowry said the city estimates Three Rivers has approximately 1,000 unidentified lead service lines, with the city expected to remove 50 lines annually over the next 20 years with each line removal costing about $10,000 for a grand total of $500,000 every year until 2040. Three Rivers will use grant money to pay a third party company to “come in and find all of the lead lines,” but the removal of all those pipes will likely fall on the shoulders of its citizens.

“We know where some of them are but they’ve never been inventoried,” Lowry said in an interview with Watershed Voice this week. “The first thing we need to do is inventory every single (lead line), that’s going to take the better part of a year to get done.”

Lowry expressed frustration with the state legislature who he blames for the predicament Three Rivers finds itself in. “So if you (remove 50 lines a year), that’s $10 million that we have to get out of the citizens because the low tax people at the state (level) are now taxing ourselves to pay for what needs to be done. Forget party name for a second, it is the people who don’t want to pay taxes, and they know when they get to Lansing that this is just an unfair cost. The state government exists in part to do what the local governments can’t, and this qualifies.”

Lowry added that, “$10 million out of this community through additional water bills is insane.” He wants the citizens of Three Rivers to “help us scream at Lansing that this is a truly unfair and insanely costly unfunded mandate.”

“It affects all water systems in the state, there’s over 1,000 pushing 2,000 water systems, it affects a lot of jurisdictions, and everybody’s rates are going to go through the roof because of this unfunded thing. So we’re going to take a year, hoping we can bring heat onto Lansing that you’ve got to stop doing this kind of stuff, and you have to pay more taxes because the goal isn’t to pay the least taxes when you know it doesn’t pay for infrastructure, that’s stupid, that’s stupidity.”

Beginning in 2023 the city is tentatively budgeting $500,000 a year to remove lead lines, which according to estimates brought up at this week’s city commission meeting, could result in an additional $8 per month or $16 per water and sewer bill until the project is completed. While the removal of lead lines isn’t expected to begin this fiscal year, the rate increase will, as the unfunded mandate is “only half of the issue.”

“The other half of the issue is we have an unusual timing of a lot of projects that need to be completed,” Lowry said. “We can postpone some of them for one or two years but most of them have to be done in the next five years.”

Those projects include street and sidewalk repair/replacement, which can prove to be “very costly” if “infrastructure needs to be replaced” during those processes. An additional unfunded mandate is also factored into the water and sewer rate increase, Lowry said.

“We currently have a generator system that when the power is lost, the generator kicks on and keeps the pumps going so we can continue water availability, also no loss of pressure, and no chance of contamination,” Lowry said. “That system is 30-years-old and the state says we have to replace it, and that’s $500,000. It’s a redundancy system but you have to have it, and again, it’s an unfunded mandate.”

Lowry added, “We have to increase the rates but if there is relief from the state some day, if they get a conscience, we’ll reduce rates.”

Sen. Kim LaSata
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
(517) 373-6960
SenKLaSata@senate.michigan.gov

Rep. Steve Carra
N-993 House Office Building
P.O. Box 30014
Lansing, MI 48909
(517) 373-0832
SteveCarra@house.mi.gov

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.