Charlotte City Council was not ready to finalize any increase to the city’s water and sewer rates Monday, July 8, instead choosing to table the decision until its July 22 meeting. Until then, council directed City Manager Gregg Guetschow and DPW Director Amy Gilson to study the impact of an increase smaller than the 11 percent discussed at the July 8 meeting.

Councilman Branden Dyer, who made the motion to table the decision, said the city examines its rate structure each year and he would like to see what impact a smaller rate increase would have on the water and sewer fund.

“I wanted to get more information from Amy [Gilson] before going forward,” Dyer said. “I don’t feel we necessarily need to see a high increase this year. I have no desire to delay this decision indefinitely, but would like to see what a lower rate would look like.”

Dyer said smaller increases could be made annually. The city has not raised rates since 2015.

Guetschow’s initial proposal to council was a 22 percent increase in water and sewer rates that would take effect all this year. Council rejected the 22 percent increase, preferring instead to study and discuss an 11 percent increase over the course of the next two fiscal years. 

“I would be terribly uncomfortable with anything under 11 percent,” said Mayor Tim Lewis. “We’re talking about the integrity of our water and sewer system. This is about the wellness and safety of our community.”

Guetschow discussed in June the city’s need to address capital improvements, specifically infrastructure improvements within the city’s water and sewer system in the 2019-20 budget.

“The biggest investments we are going to be making, besides streets, are in the utilities area,” Guetschow said in June. “We need to spend about $1 million per year on infrastructure. That goes along with reconstructing our streets. For example, reconstructing Lovett Street, there’s 1885 water main under there that has to be replaced. There are asset management plans, to make sure we keep our facilities up.”

Guetschow said the city has done a good job in managing its assets, but is being forced to be more formal in its planning efforts for water and sewer asset management by state regulations. Mandates from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality make up nearly 20 percent of the utilities budget.

“We’ve been warning that it’s time to look at an adjustment to the utility rates,” he said. 

Councilmembers will likely finalize a rate increase at its July 22 meeting. Any increased rates will not be reflected on water bills until October at the earliest, Guetschow said. 

“We want to provide the best solution that is both fiscally responsible and politically palatable,” Guetschow said.