Meeting Overview: Kalamazoo City Commission talks Approval of Water and Sewage Rate Increase
Monday’s meeting was dominated by the proposed 20 percent water and wastewater service rate increases for all commercial and residential users of the Kalamazoo utility. This story is reported by Reed Shilts.
On Monday, September 19, the Kalamazoo City Commission discussed and then voted 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 parking near the Asylum lake trail and systemic racism in our criminal justice system.
Monday’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 include the cost of drinking and wastewater treatment chemicals, like hypochlorite, almost tripling in price, phosphates up over 73 percent, and services like sledge removal and disposal have doubled over the last year from $4.5 to 9 Million.
On average, this 20 percent price increase will add $8.94 to 14.93 per month to an average resident’s combined water and wastewater bill when fully implemented in January 2023. One slide also contained the statement, “Similar but declining increases needed in subsequent years to support enhanced service.”
Encapsulating how this decision affects those in the future, Commissioner Jeanne Hess said, “what I hear from Director Baker, and what I hear from the Utilities Policy Committee, that they have looked into the future, and they want us to be a strong, healthy, welcoming community and one of those things is the gift of life, and that’s water.”
Commissioner Chris Praedel brought up examples of other cities which did not invest adequately in their water infrastructure, and the headlines from their failures. “Happening right now in Jackson Mississippi, [the] headline here, ‘Mississippi water crisis failure, decades in the making.”, said Praedel.
Praedel later continued, “the best way that we’re going to make sure that future generations of people have safe, reliable drinking water and wastewater abilities in our community is to make these difficult choices now.”
Like during the last meeting, there was a discussion about how a smaller increase, like 10 percent rather than 20 percent, would impact the utility over the long term. The continued consensus by the commission is that 20 percent is a reasonable investment for reliable water infrastructure.
Fig 1: Comparing Average Combined Utility Bill - Highlighting Proposed Kalamazoo City and Township
Modified from presentation to highlight the proposed rates.
In wrapping up the discussion for this item for the final vote, Mayor David Anderson said, “I think it’s the last thing that anybody wants to do sitting up here, is to increase rates on something”, continuing, “there are certainly examples, very immediate and close examples of what it looks like when you decide not to invest in yourselves. And we don’t want to do that.”
The 20% rate increase passed unanimously. The wastewater rate increase will start in October 2022, and the drinking water increase will start in January 2023.
The other major item was a public hearing for a new tax technique to rehabilitate rather than demolish a downtown building. Located at 215 E. Michigan Ave; near the Wine Loft and Memories Bridal Wear, across from Benny DiCarta’s. This former bank, vacant since 2013, is asbestos-laden and described as “tired and functionally obsolete”. The Treystar property development company is stating that rehabilitating and modernizing this building will make financial sense if the property taxes are frozen at their current rates for 12 years using the “Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act” exemption program defined by the state of Michigan. The plan from Treystar is for this to be the home of a new “Barrio Tacos + Tequila + Whiskey”, the fourth Barrio Tacos concept in the State of Michigan.
With this plan, Treystar can afford to fix the building, and Kalamazoo will get a vibrant neighborhood and activate the Haymarket area into a vibrant neighborhood.
The overall feeling is that if Kalamazoo does not do this, the building will remain vacant and Kalamazoo will only receive the taxes on a vacant building. With this plan, Treystar can afford to fix the building and Kalamazoo will get a vibrant neighborhood and proper taxes after 12 years.
Other items approved in the meeting were extending the lease of the odor monitoring and modeling software from Envirosuite, contracts to purchase the ductile iron pipe for nine water projects in 2023, materials for trenchless sanitary sewer maintenance, and establishing a branch of the Kalamazoo City Clerk’s office on the WMU campus for the November 8, 2022 election.