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City opposes paying Highland Park water debt

By Lisa Rose Hook

The Birmingham City Commission voted unanimously to oppose the resolution for Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to continue to pick up the tab for the city of Highland Park's $54 million water debt at their meeting on Monday, May 9.

Mayor Therese Long asserted that the residents of Birmingham should not be responsible for repaying the city of Highland Park's arrearage of $54 million, which that city has refused to pay. It has been documented that nearly half of the GLWA's 2.4 sewage rate increase was influenced by this debt, which is instituted as a pass through to other communities.

The City of Highland Park debt resulted in a lawsuit which uncovered that Highland Park indeed collected water fees from local residents and business owners, but did not pay GLWA, an independent regional water and wastewater authority, providing drinking water and sewer services to communities in southeast Michigan, including those in Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties. Residents of member communities pay for GLWA services through a portion of their water and sewer rates. Among its numerous member communities are Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township.

A problem arose with one of its member communities in July 2021, when GLWA revealed it had sued the state of Michigan seeking payment for nine years of water service to GLWA as well as to DWSD that had been provided to the city of Highland Park – and had not been paid, after the state shuttered the city's potable water facility in 2012 after years of operational problems.

The water provider states that GLWA is in violation of an ancient law which disallows another community to provide water to the municipality. The case has been on the back burner for nearly a decade, but in March 2022, GLWA aggressively went after the debt by tacking fees onto other cities in Wayne and Macomb County.

Birmingham, along with Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township, receive water from The Southeast Oakland County Water Authority (SOCWA) and the Oakland County Resources Commission for waste services.

A very brief and pointed conversation took place between commission members, and a unanimous agreement to leave Highland Park to its own devices concerning its water debt was the resounding consensus.

City Manager Tom Markus will forward copies of the resolution to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan state legislators and GLWA.

The Highland Park water debt issue was the subject of a court ruling this week but the issue is due to be before the court again in the next two weeks. A judge ordered this week that Highland Park must resume payments on the debt.


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