A Side Effect of County Rate Increases, Muskegon Heights To Raise Sewer Rates

Andrew Trzaska | September 12, 2011

Members of the Muskegon Heights City Council voted Monday to increase sewer rates but were quick to point out that the increase was out of their hands.

Residents of the city will see another increase on their water and sewer bill effective October 1, but this time the rate increase will not come from the water component.

Citing countywide sewer rate increases, Muskegon Heights raised their sewer service rate Monday, increasing it to $4.81 per 1,000 gallons.

While the city bills its residents for sewer services, it must pay that money forward to the countywide wastewater system.

Henderson sits on a countywide committee that recommends actions, including rate increases, for the county’s unified wastewater system.

When the county elected to increase rates for use of its wastewater system, cities and townships across the county must now consider finding a way to pay for it.

“We need to ensure that we raise the rates so we can pay those bills [to the county].”

Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Bonnie McGlothin noted at Monday’s meeting that the City of Muskegon Heights’ rate increase is in line with the rate increase provided by the county.

Henderson stressed that Muskegon Heights has much more control over its own water rates and those for other communities it provides water to.

Henderson noted that Muskegon Heights maintains the lowest water rates in the county as a provider to its own citizens and others.

Mayor Darrell Paige asked residents of the city to take a closer look at their water bills and note that the coming bill increases comes from the sewer portion.

“Our residents look at the bill and see the change, but it’s hard for some of them to look at the SW (sewer) and pull that out.”

The history of a consolidated wastewater system in Muskegon County goes back 40 years, when the high-capacity plant was build out in Moorland and Egelston Township.

Since then, the county has seen a decrease in industry and therefore a decrease in customers using the wastewater system.

While the system’s size was a marvel and a selling point decades ago, it has now become something of a liability to the county. With fewer customers but continued costs led to the decision to raise county sewer rates.

Paige evoked history when describing the predicament facing not just Muskegon Heights, but all cities and townships in the county faced with the higher bill from the county.

“Everyone elected to close their wastewater plants back in the day,” said Paige. “I don’t think they thought this would happen.”

Recent attempts by the county and Muskegon Area First to attract new customers at the county site have been less than successful.

Henderson noted that the focus of attracting companies has shifted to anywhere in the county, and not just at the Moorland-Egelston site.

While questions arose at Monday’s meeting in council discussions about what could be done to reduce costs at the county level, one councilwoman spoke out adamantly about the current wastewater arrangement.

“Consolidation, it never worked, and here’s a prime example, this wastewater plant,” said current councilwoman and mayoral candidate Dorothy Scott.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst