Mt. Clemens, MI - Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel and Public Works Commissioner Candice S. Miller are no longer recommending that Macomb municipalities that contract with the Great Lakes Water Authority for water and/or sewer service should soon withhold payments tied to Highland Park’s unpaid debt.
Hackel and Miller made that announcement Tuesday after GLWA’s Board of Directors voted last week to rollback its upcoming rate increase related to Highland Park. The city has had mounting debt – topping $62 million over the last 10 years -- that has been unfairly charged to the other 111 member communities of the regional authority, including 18 in Macomb County.
The rollback comes in response to a proposal by Hackel and Miller last month that all $25 million in new funding recently awarded to GLWA be used to refund the communities that have shouldered Highland Park’s debt for that city’s refusal to fully pay GLWA for that city’s water and sewer charges. Instead of a $25 million reimbursement, the GLWA Board of Directors voted on June 2 to allow only a $6.7 million refund – with the presumption that Highland Park will re-start making full payments.
“Collectively we cannot continue to ignore this problem,” said Hackel. “It is our responsibility to advocate on behalf of our ratepayers, and work with GLWA and the state to develop a more equitable solution.”
“The GLWA board members representing Oakland County, Wayne County and the City of Detroit would not agree, unfortunately, with Macomb’s idea for the full $25 million which would have provided some relief to our ratepayers,” Miller said. “Executive Hackel and I did what we needed to do to bring a lot of public awareness to this issue. We did our job and because of that the board took action. It’s a very partial victory and unfortunately it only kicks the can down the road because Highland Park’s debt will continue to grow.”
“Because of GLWA rules, one community’s refusal to make full payments for water and sewer has been covered for far too long by the suburban communities,” Miller said.
In an effort to reach a long-term solution amid years of legal challenges, Hackel and Miller wrote a letter in late March to the elected heads of Macomb’s cities, townships and villages that contract with GLWA for water and/or sewer service, recommending their councils and boards vote to withhold their respective shares of Highland Park’s debt -- starting with the July 1 start of GLWA’s fiscal year – but keep that money in escrow as a show of good faith that a long-term solution could be reached.
Then on May 19, Hackel and Miller publicly announced their proposal calling for the $25 million in new funding received by GLWA to be applied as a partial reimbursement to all 111 municipalities that have unfairly absorbed Highland Park’s unpaid water and sewer costs, hoping approval of the plan might create momentum for a long-term solution.
Macomb County’s share of Highland Park’s debt stands at $13.5 million. Hackel and Miller said county officials will continue to pursue legal options for full reimbursement.