This article is republished from Press & Guide, originally written by Briana Gaskorski and can be found here.
Dearborn City Council members voted 4-1 to amend water rates charged to all ratepayers.
Councilman David Bazzy said he and his colleagues spent a lot of time discussing and working on this before coming to a final vote at the June 17 council meeting.
“Trying to get the perfect mix here is difficult, and we have some disagreements, but that’s what democracies are about,” he said. “There was a lot of good discussions back and forth, some of it slightly heated, some of it not so heated. I think that either way we go, we are trying to find a method that’s going to work as water reduction continues across all cities as conservation becomes more and more important and the cost of water accelerates.”
Bazzy also said that everyone benefits from having water availability.
“At some point, whether you’re using water or not using water, you have to pay for a part of the system,” he said. “We pay $10 million in fixed fees regularly just within the city itself as we pay the Great Lakes Water Authority for multiple things that we are paying on a fixed basis.”
Despite the city conserving more water than ever, Bazzy said, the cost inevitably keeps climbing.
“We are doing what we are supposed to be doing and it actually feels backwards that you’re being penalized for doing it,” he said. “But there’s still such a great fixed cost that unfortunately we are not in the position of a brand new structure where the cost can be reduced.”
Councilman Mike Sareini said that a lot of times, council members think of things as being complicated when they’re not.
“We have $30 million annually, $10 million is expense guaranteed, that’s one third,” he said. “We just received a chart that indicated the rates of other surrounding communities and almost a vast majority have three quarters of their rates on the usage.”
Sareini said the way the proposed ordinance breaks down water bills isn’t fair to residents.
“Historically, your bills have shown a 27 percent fixed cost and 73 percent at usage,” he said. “What happened last year was that the same data was brought forward and we all agreed there needed to be a change. There were companies and businesses that saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the users, the 26,000 homeowners, actually foot the bill for that because that doesn’t disappear, it gets passed down to the residents.”
As that change didn’t work, Sareini said, council members and the administration agreed another change needed to happen.
“The current change is to go from 40 percent of your fixed cost bill to a 35/65 split,” he said. “Sixty-five percent being the use cost. Me, personally, I don’t think it went far enough. As I have asked, we still have not been shown that our water reduction has indicated that it has decreased, but our director says it has leveled off. I don’t see how I can justify telling a resident that if they don’t use any more water, they’re still going to pay higher.”
Sareini said that it’s council’s obligation to ensure this doesn’t happen.
“We have an obligation to try to get our residents the best service we can at the best cost,” he said. “Then take the business owner that’s using the water to profit on and make money, which they shouldn’t do, but they can cost it into their business and turn around and give them breaks. It’s not winners or losers. It’s several businesses that saved over hundreds of thousands of dollars and I don’t think this goes far enough in my opinion.”
Sareini also said he believes the city would be better off going back to how it was handled in the past, which was a 72/28 split.
“There are multiple different meter sizes,” he said. “So it’s not that simple.”
In regards to the number of water users in the city, there weren’t many complaints, Councilman Robert Abraham.
“We have 33,000 water users in the city,” he said. “But we had, on a percentage basis, we had relatively low complaints. I think the modification was effective. I look at this as learning and education. Not everyone knows everything at one time. I’m in favor of these rates and I think that it’ll fix the problems some of our residents have experienced.”
Councilwoman Erin Byrnes said her priority is the residents.
“Larger corporations have money coming in; they can handle themselves,” she said. “I’m not worried about them. I’m worried about our residents, particularly those from a lower socioeconomic background and I think that’s where we need to prioritize.”
The ordinance passed with 4 “yes” votes, with Sareini casting the sole “no” vote. Council members Susan Dabaja and Brian O’Donnell were not at the meeting.