After City of Muskegon Presents Water Consolidation Plan, Muskegon Heights Considers Counter-Proposal

Andrew Trzaska | July 11, 2011

After the City of Muskegon presented a plan for a consolidated water authority for a portion of lower Muskegon County, Muskegon Heights is looking to assess their water plant’s value and likely counter-propose the offer.

The City of Muskegon called a meeting to present the proposal last Thursday which included representatives from surrounding communities.

Muskegon is offering to provide water for its surrounding communities at a lower rate, but would control water rates and eventually control both water filtration plants in the area, taking over Muskegon Heights’ plant in the long term.

  • As a component of the plan, Muskegon Heights’ plant would give up control of the operation of the plant.
  • In return, Muskegon would pay the city $1.2 million per year for 5 years, paying a total of $6 million to take full operational control of the plant.
  • Muskegon Heights, however, would retain ownership of the plant itself and the waterfront land it sits on.
  • Also presented in the proposal were water rates, where Muskegon Heights would pay 25% less than other communities.
  • Also packaged with the proposal was a request for resolution of commitment, which Muskegon Heights has not agreed to at this point.

Muskegon says it wants to hear from all municipalities involved by mid-July.  If any decline the plan, it will not go forward.

[View the proposal here]

Some controversy surrounds how the deal was proposed, and how much time has been given to review the proposal.

Several city council members, City Manager Natasha Henderson and Mayor Darrell Paige confirmed that the City of Muskegon Heights was not notified ahead of time of the plan, but heard the details for the first time at the meeting.

“The City of Muskegon had time to mull it over with its staff and its mayor, but we did not have that time,” said Paige.

Council members expressed some dissatisfaction about the lack of notification about the proposal before the meeting last Thursday, even though the Heights water plant is a large part of the plan.

City Manager Henderson noted that the Muskegon City manager Bryon Mazade and her have been in talks recently on the water issue, but that Muskegon did have the right to deviate from those discussions to make this proposal.

“The City has had good faith talks with [the City of Muskegon], they just chose to go in a different direction”

However, councilwoman Dorothy Scott expressed frustration with the plan’s complete departure from the continued negotiations between the two cities and the presented plan, questioning local media coverage of it as well, that she says paints Muskegon Heights in a bad light.

“This is the game [the City of Muskegon] is playing with us.  They negotiate, then they spin it to the paper,” said Scott.

The water issue was not formally on the City’s agenda Monday, so no action was taken at Monday’s meeting.

Moving forward, Henderson stated at the council’s service meeting that even if the city did not sign the proposal, it provides Muskegon Heights the opportunity to counter-propose, which they are looking to do at this time.

In light of the $6 million offer in the proposal, the city is working to hire an engineering consultant to value its water facilities, according to Henderson.

Henderson also stated that the counter-proposal would be done in good faith.

Any which way, the water plant in the city of Muskegon Heights appears to be vital to the overall needs of the county.

The other major water plant in the county is the City of Muskegon’s, which has less room to expand than the one owned by Muskegon Heights, according to Paige.

However, neither operates at full capacity, prompting the plan to consolidate.

How each will fit into the overall county equation is yet to be decided, especially if the plan proposed last week does not receive the commitment of the City of Muskegon Heights.

Paige also saw a possible counter-proposal as part of a long process of reaching an agreement with other municipalities.

“There are many proposals out there.  There will be more, and this is one of them.”

Andrew Trzaska

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

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