Mt. Clemens, MI - The Michigan Supreme Court has rejected Highland Park’s request to hear the city’s appeal of a ruling last year that the city must pay $24 million in unpaid water and sewer fees to the Great Lakes Water Authority.
Highland Park has mounting debt – topping $56 million over the last 11 years -- that has been shouldered by the other 111 member communities of the regional authority, including 18 in Macomb County.
Last year, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in a 2014 case filed by the City of Detroit and the Great Lakes Water Authority against Highland Park that Highland Park must pay $21 million plus $3 million interest over Highland Park’s failure to fully pay water and sewer charges. Highland Park continued its years of legal challenges and asked the Supreme Court for permission to hear the case. In a ruling released Tuesday, the Supreme Court justices denied the city’s application for leave to appeal the August 2022 appellate court ruling, saying in part: “…we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court.”
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Public Works Commissioner Candice S. Miller applauded the court’s ruling released Tuesday.
“Simply put, this has always been a fairness issue. Although there is always a willingness to help our neighbors, it is unacceptable to expect that other communities should be paying for another who is unwilling to do so," said Hackel. "We will continue to work together as a region to keep costs fair and reasonable for everyone."
"The court came to the right decision denying Highland Park's appeal, and we hope this allows the Great Lakes Water Authority to proceed with collection -- whatever form it takes -- and we call on the state to assist Highland Park so the city can rightly pay what it owes," Miller said.
Hackel and Miller noted that Brian Baker, Macomb County's representative on the GLWA board, first raised concerns about Highland Park's unpaid debt and that the other communities in the regional water authority have been forced under the authority’s prior agreements to shoulder that growing financial burden. Macomb County’s share of Highland Park’s ongoing debt stands at more than $12 million.
In spring 2022, a portion of GLWA’s proposed rates to its member communities for the 2023 fiscal year included another increase to those municipalities to absorb Highland Park’s refusal to fully pay its charges. Hackel and Miller urged the communities of Macomb County that contract with GLWA for water and/or sewer service to withhold the portion of their rates increases tied to Highland Park’s debt. In doing so, Hackel and Miller suggested the elected leaders in the 18 communities to put that money in escrow as a show of good faith with the hope that a long-term solution could be reached. Several cities and townships in the county voted to do so.
Then in May 2022, Hackel and Miller urged the GLWA Board of Directors to allocate the full $25 million the authority was slated to receive from the state under the American Rescue Plan Act, as a partial reimbursement to GLWA’s member municipalities. The GLWA board voted on June 2, 2022 to delay a rate hike of $6.7 million – with the presumption that Highland Park would re-start making full payments. Coupled with a partial victory of the $6.7 million, Hackel and Miller subsequently urged the local city councils and township and village boards to not withhold any payments to GLWA.
Unfortunately, Highland Park has resumed making only partial payments of less than 50%, so their unpaid debt continues to grow at $3.5 million per year.
“Going forward, we still need the state to get engaged to achieve a long-term solution for Highland Park to pay its water and sewer bills,” Miller said Tuesday.