Trustees take input on added water, sewer fees
By Kevin Elliott
More than two dozen residents on Thursday, March 16, voiced their displeasure to the Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees about a potential fee to be added to water and sewer customers who have secondary water meters installed in their homes to monitor water usage for irrigation, or outdoor water usage.
Bloomfield Township Director of Public Works Noah Mehalski said the township has until the end of April to make a decision on setting water and sewer rates.
At the center of the discussion was whether to charge secondary meter customers a flat fee for their meter usage. Currently, homes with secondary water meters aren’t charged a fee for their use, nor are they charged sewer fees. The idea was proposed in 2022 following a rate study undertaken by the township and its rate consultants, which found the township was unique in not charging any fee for the meters. The board deferred a decision until 2023, and proposed instituting a fixed fee program until all homes in the township have updated the meters needed to transition to monthly billing based on precise usage.
“The endgame is to go to monthly billing and a tiered-rate system where you pay more based on water usage,” Mehalski said. “That places the burden on the actual use, rather than the meter size.”
However, the interim program would use a flat fee based on the size of a customer’s secondary water meter. For instance, a customers with a meter smaller than one-inch would be considered to have a capacity of one MEU, or meter equivalency unit, while larger meter sizes with higher capacity would be billed more.
“Rather than treating all customers the same, the new fee would be based on potential demand of each customer, determined by meter size,” Mehalski said. “This helps to improve equity in the rate structure by accounting for the fact that customers with larger meters represent a greater potential demand on the system.”
About 3,200 of the township’s 15,000 water customers already utilize secondary water meters. Those customers are charged only variable water charges. The township’s rate study found there should be a fixed rate included for the meters, as well. Customers with secondary meters represent seasonal, peak users, which refers to the maximum amount of water used, and on what day and hour that water is used. By not charging a fee, consultants found other customers in the system carry the burden of secondary meter users.
Residents with secondary meters were notified of the potential changes earlier this year and advised of the meeting on March 16. About two dozen residents spoke at the meeting, all of which expressed their displeasure with the proposed changes.
Bloomfield Township resident William Vetter showed the board his $975 invoice for having his secondary meter installed nearly 20 years ago.
“I believe this would be a betrayal of what I was told in August of 2003, when I installed our secondary meter at a cost to us of $975,” he said. “I was told that if I installed the secondary water meter, there would be no surcharge for water usage recorded by that meter, and no fee for the secondary water meter. Therefore, if the township starts charging a fee for the secondary meter, I believe our case should be grandfathered in without a fee, or have to remove the meter at their cost and reimburse the $975.”
Mehalski, during his presentation, recommended the board charge the fee only to new meter users, such as those having them installed after April 2023, or when a home is sold to a new resident.
While trustees didn’t vote on any measures during the study session, the board reached consensus that they would grandfather in existing secondary water meter customers. Board members also informally agreed to use $3 million in water fund reserves to start the first year of the secondary water meter program. Mehalski said the entire program will take about three years to complete at the estimate of about $3 million each year.
“I believe we should use reserves, as that’s money we have,” he said. “We could put this on the rate, which would be a $15 increase each month, and that is untenable with the customer base. That’s not the way to go.”
Mehalski recommended bonding the remaining $6 million in costs for the secondary water meter program, which would spread the cost over 20 years.
The board of trustees will meet on Monday, April 10, to receive preliminary rate information from staff; and again on Monday, April 24, for final approval.