Equitable water rates good for Rochester

January 1, 2016

The city of Rochester has spent a lot of time reworking the city's water billing structure in order to create greater equitability. The new system, which was approved by the Rochester City Council in early November, creates a dual rate system, with those who use more water paying their fair share. The previous water rate system had a flat rate, with those using less water in essence subsidizing those who utilize more water for their homes, gardens and commercial properties.

Under the new water and sewerage plan, Rochester now has two billing systems, one to accommodate municipal well water users, mostly on the west side of the city, and one for consumers of Detroit Water and Sewerage Services (DWSD), mostly those who live and work on the east side of the city.

Under the plan, residents on DWSD who use less than 18 units per billing cycle, about 550 accounts, will see a reduction in their water bills, while those who use over 18 units, approximately 1,290 accounts, will see a higher water bill.

Rochester did not pursue this new water and sewerage plan without careful planning and deliberation – they undertook a three-year water rate study, which was done in collaboration with Umbaugh & Associates, which is one of the largest and most active independent municipal advisors to governmental units in the midwest, offering analysis to municipalities, utilities, libraries, and economic development corporations. 

According to a three-year water rate study, the city's water and sewer fund expenses total $5.6 million, and of that total, $3.4 million is used to operate the sewerage system, and $2.2 million is for water services. 

Seeking to find greater equity for all of Rochester's residents, the city government was right to work the last several years to provide basically a pay-as-you-use system for water. Most local municipalities on Detroit water utilize a similar system, with individual meters on homes and businesses monitoring consumption against a flat fee.

Rochester residents on Detroit water now have the option, even if it seems initially expensive, to purchase an irrigation meter for $330, plus an $80 fee for obtaining the permit and installing the meter. The $410 amount may sound pricey, but for some it will be an investment that will come back to them. The city has invited residents to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether installing the meter will benefit them financially in the long run. For many it may well be worth it because the outside metering easily quantifies the exact amount of water going to irrigate, and then that amount will be deducted from their sewer costs. The irrigation meters are designed to reduce wastewater bills, and exclusively determine the quantity of water that's being used outdoors for watering and irrigation. 

Water and sewer rates and their billing are confusing, and not a topic many people want to spend much time discussing. Suffice it to say the city of Rochester spent the time to do the analysis for residents. If you use more water, it's now time to pay. If not, it's time you got a break.

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