Township of Macomb. – This week, several Macomb County communities voted to withhold the Highland Park portion of their city’s water bills from the Great Lakes Water Authority.
The Township of Macomb, St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights voted to withhold “water and sewer costs attributable to Highland Park’s non-payment, and place those funds in escrow pending a just settlement of this matter.” is wanted,” according to the Macomb Township resolution.
Payments will cease at the start of fiscal year 2023 on July 1.
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor has urged Governor Gretchen Whitmer to negotiate a settlement.
“She passes the buck to herself, but the buck stops with her,” Taylor said. “The state created this problem.”
Southeast Michigan communities push back on obligation to contribute to a A $54 million tab the water authority said Highland Park oweddating from 2012.
After a century of water independence, the state closed the Highland Park Water Plant in November 2012 due to cloudy water issues. Highland Park was connected to the Great Lakes Water Authority on an “emergency” basis and remained so a decade later.
These costs were passed on to other communities served by the water board, and over the past decade communities in Macomb County have paid $13.5 million for the backlog. If it continues another year, it will increase to $15 million.
To date, Macomb Township has contributed $1.43 million and is expected to contribute nearly $178,000 in fiscal year 2023. Macomb Township has a population of approximately 92,000, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
To date, St. Clair Shores, which has a population of 59,000, has paid about $1.5 million since 2012 and would pay an additional $165,000 in 2023.
Mayor Kip Walby of St. Clair Shores said he was at a small rally recently, with about 15 people. Three of them asked about Highland Park, he said.
“It’s upsetting for them,” Walby said. “The bills are already high. It’s charging them.”
Whether it’s a judge or the state, Walby said “we need someone who is a third party to arbitrate the situation and come to some type of resolution. That’s what I don’t haven’t seen.”
John Caron, alderman and acting mayor of St. Clair Shores, said the issue came to public attention when the Great Lakes Water Authority sent letters to each community, listing their contribution to the debt so far. and how much they would contribute in 2023. .
“To see what each community is paying, to cover what Highland Park isn’t paying, really brings the issue to the fore,” Caron said. “It pushed communities to act.”
Caron believes the case will end with a “court injunction requiring Highland Park to pay some of what they owe”.
“Not paying is not acceptable,” Caron said.
Non-payment will breed non-payment, executives said.
“Payments are going to stop,” said Taylor of Sterling Heights, whose community paid about $2.7 million in Highland Park debt, with about $345,000 on the bridge in 2023.
Taylor predicted that “dozens” of communities would pass similar resolutions to withhold funds related to Highland Park.
“Ultimately it’s going to affect us,” Taylor admitted. “But he will also pressure the Great Lakes Water Authority to get the state involved.”
Highland Park sees things differently.
He views his decade-long relationship with the Great Lakes Water Authority as a marriage neither side wanted. He says he was overcharged for water and tried in the court of public opinion, even after winning in court.
Highland Park cites a 2021 Wayne County Circuit Court ruling that “encapsulated” all debts in a $1 million Detroit judgment.
In an April 1 letter to Great Lakes Water Authority management, Highland Park Water Manager Damon Garrett wrote, “Highland Park is appalled by GLWA’s unregulated high-handed strategy to label it a scapegoat to cover his rationale for rate increases to support their bloated organization.”
Garrett continued, “The city is disgusted by the impact of GLWA’s frivolous lawsuits, blatant disregard for contracts, and utter disrespect they have for their own settlement agreements.”
The Great Lakes Water Authority, meanwhile, says Highland Park has paid 1% of its water bill and 50% of its sewer bills since 2012, but nothing since April 2021. Highland Park says recent non- payments are invoices for past surcharges.
The litigation is ongoing.
Communities became impatient to pay bills for services they did not use.
Macomb Township Supervisor Frank Viviano wrote a March 23 letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer urging her to get involved.
“By all accounts, this is an unfair burden to place on the people of Macomb Township,” Viviano wrote.
“The State of Michigan bears some responsibility for the circumstances that led to this dispute,” Viviano wrote. He added that “a higher authority has the ability to step in and be part of the solution.”
So far, Whitmer has been reluctant to do so.
In multiple statements to the Detroit News about the dispute between Highland Park and GLWA, the governor’s office “encouraged” the parties to work things out, but did not indicate a willingness to get more involved or cover the backlog. as requested by some communities. .
“The likely outcome of the path we are all on will be costly and lengthy litigation,” Viviano wrote to Whitmer.
At a press conference on March 30, Viviano joined the leaders of Shelby Township, St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights by announcing its intention to withhold the funds.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel called the press conference, along with Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller.
“Enough is enough,” Hackel said.
Communities in Macomb County joined their counterparts in Downstream and western Wayne County withholding funds.
Oakland County shares the frustration of its neighbors, but did not want to withhold fundsbelieving it would starve the system of resources.
As Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash told The News: “It’s not like we can take back the water from Highland Park. It just means there’s less money to spend on operations, maintenance and capital projects.”
Great Lakes Water Authority acting CEO Suzanne Coffey said she doesn’t see the restraint program as a mutiny, but as a way to raise awareness and get the state involved.
“I wish it wasn’t so controversial,” Coffey said during a Sunday appearance on WDIV-TV’s Flashpoint, “but the reality is that raising awareness is going to help us solve the problem.”