Meeting Overview: Kalamazoo City Commission discuss 20% water/sewage rate increase

Tuesday’s meeting was dominated by the proposed 20 percent water and wastewater service rate increases for all users, both commercial and residential, of the Kalamazoo utility. Reed Shilts reports the story.

On Tuesday, September 6, the Kalamazoo City Commission met to discuss the need to raise utility rates for both drinking water and wastewater service by 20 percent. Residents commented about utility rates and water quality concerns, as well as touching on public urination and systemic racism in our criminal justice system.


Tuesday’s meeting was dominated by the proposed 20 percent water and wastewater service rate increases for all users, both commercial and residential, of the Kalamazoo utility. The discussion was led by James Baker, Director of Public Services. The increases included cost of drinking and waste water treatment chemicals (some up over 73 percent), increases for services like sledge removal and disposal, all compounded by inflation. 


These exceeded the anticipated cost forecasts. A further cost increase example was that a lead line replacement used to average $3,000 but is now $10,000. This is a service provided by the Kalamazoo utility at no charge to the customer.


On average, this 20 percent price increase will add $5.47 to $8.87 per month to a resident’s water bill starting in January 2023. The average wastewater bill will increase by $3.47 to $6.45 per month starting next month.


Director Baker further detailed the treatment price increases are on top of the ongoing program replacing lead water lines to homes and replacing the century old pipes throughout Kalamazoo.


One interesting factoid buried in the wastewater spreadsheets is that a single commercial user like Pfizer pays more per month, over $473,800, than all the residents in the cities of both Portage and Vicksburg combined, at $420,700.


Many of the commissioner and audience comments were focused on the affordability of continued price increases and the impact on low income households. Baker brought up two programs addressing this. Michigan provides the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, specifically for drinking and waste water costs. Additionally, Kalamazoo has a water affordability plan to be implemented soon along with delinquent payment shutoffs indefinitely suspended.


Further, while Kalamazoo has the fifth largest water utility in the state, we are also aggressive in water quality issues, like PFAS treatment and lead line replacement, while keeping the monthly cost to each resident below the state average.


There were also discussions how a smaller increase, like 10 percent rather than 20 percent, would impact the utility over the long term. The consensus by the commission is that 20 percent is a reasonable investment for reliable water infrastructure.



Utility Bill

Fig 1: Comparing Average Combined Utility Bill - Highlighting Proposed Kalamazoo City and Township; modified from city presentation to highlight the proposed rates.


In wrapping up the discussion for this item, which still needs a final vote on Sept. 19, the commissioner comments included how Kalamazoo may have previously under-invested in our water infrastructure, but upgrading our 100-year-old system with no disruptions to service is within our reach.


Additional items approved include approving $140,000 for the design of a sanitary sewer siphon improvement on John Street at Crosstown and revisions to the historically problematic Axtell Creek Culverts. This includes a public hearing on Sept. 19 for a tax plan to assist rehabilitation of a vacant downtown property at 215 E. Michigan Ave, and approving a tax plan with Kal-Recovery to create 72 units affordable housing at two sites in the Edison neighborhood.