JACKSON, Mich. — The City of Jackson voted to approve water and sewer rate increases at their most recent city council meeting. Jackson residents and businesses will see water rates increase by 12 percent and sewer rates by 4 percent.
Public Information Officer Aaron Dimick says its partly due to cost-of-living increases and maintaining their current system but the massive lead service line replacement project is a huge reason why city council voted unanimously in favor of these increases.
"It’s going to cost $120 million to replace every lead service line in the city so it’s a huge undertaking. Every street in the city is going to have be dug up. Everyone’s yard is going to have to be dug up. This is something that we have to do and the state is not going to give us any funds to do it,” Dimick said.
The State of Michigan mandated all cities change their lead service lines in response to the Flint Water Crisis. As of May 26, the city of Jackson replaced around 100 of their nearly 11,000 lead water service lines. This is a project that will take upwards of 30 years to complete. City officials say residents may have to handle rate increases for the next two decades in response to this project.
“They just set this rate for the next two fiscal years. So, this is going to be the increases that we see for the next two years. Then after that they will have to look at the rate increase again,” Dimick said.
Water and sewer rate increases will affect both businesses and residents. According to Dimick, the average customer will pay somewhere in the ballpark of $20 more per year.
“That is very good compared to what we were looking at before. We were looking at huge increases before of like 80, 100 percent which would have been a lot more for our residents. So, we’re happy it’s not looking like it’s going to be a huge extra burden on our residents,” Dimick said.
Consumers Energy’s headquarters is based out of Jackson. They recently dug their own water well at a power plant located on Chapin Street. The move allows them to have enough water needed to operate its electric generating power plant. In turn, the city of Jackson lost its biggest water customer.
“Because we changed how we bill. We removed our tiered rate system. Our biggest water users we’re getting a discount on water,” Dimick said. “That meant the plant would have to be paying more for their water. Consumers is a private company. They’re a corporation. They can make decisions about what they feel is best for their company. We understand that. That is just the situation we’re dealing. But, we also have to raise rates because of that.”
"We are committed to ensuring all Jackson residents have access to clean, affordable water," Consumers' Media Relations Manager Brian Wheeler said. "When the City Council canceled our water agreement early last year, we started development of our own water source for the Jackson Generating Station to deliver the best value for our customers. We project we will draw about 80% of the plant’s water from the well -- we will remain on the city water system for the rest, plus continue to use city water at our headquarters and the Parnall Road complex. We are pleased the city has gathered more information, including a robust study, to deliver a more affordable proposal than its original plan, and we’re hopeful the proposed federal infrastructure plan will supply funds to lower the cost to our community."
Public comment during a May 11 city council meeting showcased some pushback over the rise in water rates.
“The city council acted in haste when trying to get rid of the three-tier system. I don’t think that should have resulted in the city’s residents and property owners to pick up the tab to the tune of 12 percent or more water rate increase,” John King said during public comment.
“Perhaps some of the $32 million the city is going to receive will alleviate some of these rate increases. Simply raising fees is easy and unimaginative,” John Like said during public comment.
“Nobody likes to pay more in bills,” Dimick said. “This is not something we take pleasure in doing but it is something we have to do. It’s important for our residents to know we’ve been working on this for nearly three years. We don’t want to pass along this burden to our residents. We think this is a good solution because we hope the impacts will be minimal.”
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