MASON, Mich. — The city of Mason has three costly projects on the horizon.
The first is the removal of all lead service lines by 2045, a process the city has already started. Mason Mayor Russ Whipple estimates that the cost to replace each lead service line in the city will be around $7,000,000. At a rate of 5 percent removed each year, that is $350,000 per year. In June, the city council voted to increase water and sewer rates by 8 percent.
The second is the renovation and expansion of the Department of Public Works and the city's wastewater treatment plant. That project is estimated to cost around $17,000,000.
"The wastewater treatment system and the lead pipe removal is going to come from the water system and will have to be paid for by user fees. We obviously would anticipate there would be an increase in user fees, because we're going to have a substantial increase in costs that we don't have today," Whipple said.
Preliminary findings suggest rate increases from the renovation could be as high as 40 percent per average user. The goal is for the water and sewer system to fund itself and to not use tax dollars.
Finally, is the five-year parks improvement plan, which could cost taxpayers up to $1,150,000. A city election will be held in November for the increase in the millage rate by one mill.
The city is now looking at creative ways to offset these costs, otherwise, it will all fall on Mason residents.
"What we are trying to do is get money anywhere we can to help offset that," Whipple said. "We've already got a request in through Congresswoman Slotkin's office. She's already put forward a request for an appropriation to the city for specifically the wastewater treatment plant, which we're hoping is substantial, like millions of dollars to help."
The city asked Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin for roughly half the cost of the wastewater plant renovation. The city also asked Ingham County for money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds that the county received in response to the COVID-`19 crisis.
"The county got a lot of money for that, and the county's one of our biggest water and sewer users. So, anything that we can do to reduce rates obviously helps them. So, we've asked them if they would be interested in contributing some of their money from that toward the wastewater treatment plant," Whipple explained.
Whipple said they are in the design phase for the new department of public works. It will hopefully start construction next year.
"Hopefully by then, all this money is lined up and we can then do a real rate study and determine what we have to do to our rates," Whipple said.
During Monday's city council meeting, Councilmember Rita Vogel presented what she thinks could be two viable options to offset these costs: solar power and marijuana manufacturing.
"Back in March, city council had a joint meeting with our planning commission to discuss our 20-year master plan," Vogel explained. "I had suggested that I would like to see in the next 20 years for Mason some solar power energy."
The next day, Vogel found an article about Batesville School District in Arkansas, "who got a $5,000,000 grant and has since then made more money back because of it."
Vogel compared the sun index in Arkansas with that of Michigan.
"Their community is the same as ours. Same amount population, rural community, three elementaries, one middle, one high school. So, this really looked like something we should explore."
As for marijuana facilities in Mason, "We've opted out completely of both medical and recreational marijuana uses, operations, businesses in our town. We don't allow them," Whipple said.
No decisions have been made at this time, but Whipple said he and the rest of the city council are open to hearing and exploring ideas from residents on how to offset the costs.
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