Rochester City Council on Monday, July 9, approved a measure to expedite water and sewer rate changes that will help the city from absorbing pass-through fees in the future.
The city has two separate water systems, with the eastern half of the city supplied water by the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) by way of Shelby Township, and the western portion served by a municipal water well located off Livernois Road. The city's department of public works is responsible for maintenance of the water and sewer systems within the city limits.
Currently, water and sewer rates for each of the systems are set by city ordinance. That means annual rate changes must be set through an ordinance amendment, a process that includes a public notice, public hearing and two readings (or approvals) by city council. However, the city's infrastructure committee in 2017 recommended removing the rate structure from the city code and allowing rates to be set through a single resolution by city council.
Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing said part of the challenge of the ordinance process is that pass-through rate increases from the GLWA and Shelby Township often go into effect before city council is able to amend its own rate through the ordinance process. That means the city often absorbs the cost of the increases until the process is completed, which may take 60 to 90 days.
By removing the rate structure from the city's ordinances and adding it to a master fee schedule that may be adjusted by a single resolution by city council, the process may be expedited, along with pass-through fees.
Rochester City Attorney Jeffrey Kragt said the city has already made such changes to other fees in the city, and water and sewer fees are adjusted frequently. He said city council would still be required to have adjustments as an agenda item and specifically approve it at a public meeting.
Councilman Ben Giovanelli added a caveat to ensure that city council reviews water and sewer rates on an annual basis. Doing so, he said, would encourage greater transparency in the process.
City manager Wing said an additional page has already been added to the city's website to specifically list and explain water and sewer rates, as well as a page including those rate changes from previous years.
Council on June 11 approved the first reading and introduction of the ordinance amendment. The second reading and adoption was unanimously approved on Monday, July 9, with councilman Dean Bevacqua absent during both votes.