Three Rivers City Commission to hold public hearing for 2021-22 budget next week

Water, sewer rate increases, other user fee updates will also be considered

The Three Rivers City Commission will hold a public hearings at its next meeting on Tuesday, June 1 to consider updates to its user fee ordinance, including increases to the city’s water and sewer rates, as well as its 2021-22 FY budget.

During a special meeting on Tuesday, May 25, commissioners heard from two citizens about a need for clarity on how much their water and sewer bills will spike 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.

Commissioner Daryl Griffith said he would like to “have the money going towards lead line replacements as a surcharge (on citizens’ bills) as opposed to being buried into the fee” to put the onus on “the right people.” Griffith said the city has been given an unfunded mandate and are “forced to deal with it, and forced to pass that onto the consumers,” and citizens should direct their concerns to their representatives in the state legislature.

“We’re going to get the brunt of that discontent, I completely understand, I agree with them,” Griffith said. “Please let your state representatives know that unfunded mandates are not OK.”

Mayor Tom Lowry suggested city staff should add line items to each water and sewer bill to make clear how much of each citizen’s bill is going directly toward the funding of lead line removal. Commissioner Pat Dane said she agreed with Lowry because “we have to do something so people understand what the difference is” in respect to their previous bills and the bills that will follow the passage of the 2021-22 FY budget.

In an interview with Watershed Voice last week, 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.

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.”

Next Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be accessible via Zoom.

Alek Haak-Frost is executive editor of Watershed Voice.