To Fix Water Pipes, Rate Hikes Likely
As in many systems, neglect long-standing
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
BY TOM GANTERT
News Staff Reporter
Last week, when explaining why Ann Arbor residents are facing
water rates rising at more than twice the rate of inflation, Public
Services Area Administrator Sue McCormick described some of the
city's efforts to repair its aging pipes as "Band-Aids on
After what city officials call decades of neglect, residents are
having to make up for the lack of improvements through higher and
higher rate payments.
The city revised its rate structure in spring 2004 and introduced
quarterly water and sewage charges. In March 2004, the average
quarterly water bill was $105.12 for 21 ccf (one ccf equals 100
cubic feet or about 748 gallons). The latest proposed rate hike
would boost that 21 ccf bill to $147.52, an accumulated jump of 40
City Council Member Chris Easthope, D-5th Ward, persuaded his
colleagues to delay approving the latest increase until the staff
explored alternative measures. Easthope and Council Member Leigh
Greden, D-3rd Ward, met with McCormick last Thursday.
They are working on a plan to hold just the water portion of the
rate increase to 4.2 percent for only residential customers, instead
of the approximately 7 percent hike proposed by the city staff.
"Other cities are raising rates at much higher rates,'' Greden
said. "But we'd like to give Ann Arbor taxpayers a break.''
Any change in the proposed plan would have to be approved by the
council in July.
In the past three years, the city has spent $653,783 repairing
219 water main breaks. From 2005 through 2008, city officials
estimate that it will have spent another $100,000 on infrastructure
improvements in its water, sewer and storm water systems.
McCormick said that even at the rate of the increases, the city
isn't keeping up with what needs to be done. The city's utilities
are separate "enterprise'' funds, which means they have to be
self-sufficient, relying on rates and fees.
The problem is not restricted to Ann Arbor.
The Water Infrastructure Network, a nationwide coalition of
elected officials and water department leaders, issued a report in
2000 that exposed how unprepared municipalities across the country
were when it came to paying for looming infrastructure improvements.
The report found an estimated $23 billion gap in funding to
replace aging and failing pipes over the next 20 years. Another
report estimated that municipalities around the country will need to
spend $250 billion on improvements over the next 30 years. Resident
Penny VonEschen has a family of three and has noticed an increase in
water bills but said that "it hasn't gone up a great deal."
VonEschen said that if the rate increases are being used to pay
for infrastructure improvements, she supports them.
"I have no problem with that,'' VonEschen said. "If my Comcast
bill goes up, I am highly annoyed. I don't think that is reasonable
whatsoever. I put this in a completely different category.''
Retiree Andrew Slade said that he has been blessed financially so
the increase doesn't have much of an impact on his life. "I'm doing
quite well,'' Slade said. "I know a lot of people that it is going
to hurt, especially with the economy. We can holler and scream ...
but you can't do anything about it.''
Tom Gantert can be reached at