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Farmington Expects 15 Percent Water, Sewer Rate Increase

A jump in a fixed charge from Detroit Water & Sewer has a big effect on local bills.

If numbers discussed at Monday night's Council special meeting hold true, residents can expect to see an increase of about 15 percent in their water and sewer bills.

City Manager Vince Pastue said proposed water rates that cover the actual cost of running the system, as well as debt service costs, will go from $3.63 to $4 per 1,000 cubic feet of water used, an increase of about 10 percent.

Based on water usage, sewer rates will also increase, from $4.18 to $4.77, about 14 percent. The city's age actually works against saving on sewer rates.

Homes built before the late 1960s, Pastue explained, have drain tiles installed around footings to keep water out of basements, rather than sump pumps that push water into the storm drains. As a result, Pastue said, "about 20 percent of our flow (into Detroit sewage treatment system) is clear water."

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD)'s annual fixed charge of $92.35, a little over $23 a quarter, will jump by 69 percent, to $156.50, or about $39 per quarter. Property owners pay that rate whether or not a home is occupied, city Treasurer Chris Weber said.

Because DWSD controls the system, city officials can't do much more than try to mitigate the damage.

"We've tried to do everything we can to trim expenses," Pastue said. Wages have been decreased by more than $30,000 since 2009-2010, and administrative charges by $80,000 over the same time frame. Also in 2010-2011, the final payment on a millage that supported debt will be paid, so water and sewer will be paid solely from revenues generated beginning in 2011-2012, he said.

Another factor affecting rates is the "new normal" for water consumption in Farmington. Measured over the past several years, including a range of weather conditions, the city's water usage has settled at a little over 15 percent less than in the 2003-2006 time period. Pastue believes the decrease is due to the economy and residents conserving more.

"We're assuming that's the new norm," Weber said.

Less water use means each individual customer will pay more, because the cost of operations does not take a proportional drop. Weber said the budget took a "pessimistic" view of water use into the future. "We've had some cold, wet seasons and some warm, dry seasons, and basically it's all the same," he said.

Pastue also expects increases in the DWSD's fixed charge to continue. He said the beleaguered utility is trying to smooth out some of the volatility in the annual budget and rate-setting process.

Acknowledging that water and sewer rate calculations are complex, Pastue said efforts will be made to educate residents about the increase.

"One of the things we're working on ... is trying to explain our (water and sewer) rates with our cable show," he said.

"I think your approach to educate the public is the best thing you can do," council member JoAnne McShane said. "It's the only thing you can do."

Pastue expects to have final numbers for his May 16 budget presentation. The council meets next on April 18 at 7 p.m.

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