By Jim Newell
ORION TWP. — Residents will soon see an increase in their water and sewer bills after the Orion Township Board of Trustees voted 6-0 to raise those rates by seven percent.
The decision came after a water and sewer rate study the township commissioned with Yeo & Yeo CPAs and advisors.
“This is a tough one. I know other members of our board who have been here for a while remember the days when we were actually selling water for a loss. We were selling water cheaper than what we were paying Great Lakes Water Authority,” township Supervisor Chris Barnett said. “We have to maintain our underground infrastructure. It’s the one thing that 98 percent of residents probably don’t know about, care about, understand and don’t need to as long as the toilets flush and the water turns on in the shower.”
Orion Township received notification from the North Oakland County Water Authority (NOCWA) and the Water Resources Commissioner (WRC) that water, sewer and Industrial Waste Control (IWC) rates would increase in July 2023. Orion Township hired Yeo and Yeo to perform a rate study and upon review of their findings, determined that increasing the water and sewer rates is necessary to cover the increasing water and sewer rates to Orion Township, and operational and capital costs of the Public Services Department, according to township documents.
The current water rate is $3.73 per unit of water and the proposed increase would be $3.99 per unit of water. The current sewer monthly flat rate is $34.09 and the proposed sewer monthly flat rate would be $34.48. Commercial sewer rates are currently set at $3.20 per unit of water billed over 10 units of water, and the proposed change would be $3.43 per unit of water billed over 10 units of water, according to township documents.
The IWC Charges on commercial accounts only have also been increased by the Water Resource Commission and the new rate is a pass-through to the customer.
Trustee Matt Pfeiffer is the board liaison to the Public Services Department.
“In a time when our country is having infrastructure issues across the country, I am super proud of what (the township DPW) do as a team to stay ahead of things, to make sure that we don’t get into a crisis. It’s obviously one of our most important tasks as a township to make sure that we have water and sewer handled in a safe way,” Pfieffer said. “Granted, seven percent is not small. Our minimum billing rate last year up until this was $41.55. It’s increasing to $44.46, which is an increase of $2.91. Seven percent is a big percentage as an increase goes but in terms of actual dollars I think it’s something that is well worth the investment for us now and for our future.”
Barnett said that Orion Township’s water and sewer systems are relatively modern compared to other communities, adding that the township needed to be prepared and build up a “safety net” in case something happened to the system, and to prepare for eventual updates.
“We have to make sure that we’re charging (appropriately) and being good stewards of the system and continue to make sure that our fire hydrants turn on,” Barnett said. “Seven percent is not fun. If you compare our water and sewer rates to any of our neighbors we are still cheaper. And by a long shot by some of them, particularly Auburn Hills. Our water comes through Auburn Hills.”
One of the ways that water rates are calculated is by distance from the source. Barnett said Orion’s water is about 30 percent cheaper than Auburn Hills.
“Obviously, inflation this past year was between six and seven percent. So, really it should be expected. But we understand that seven percent is a big deal to a lot of our residents, especially those on fixed incomes. But it really is the cost of keeping our system current, updated and modern,” Barnett said.
The Orion Township Board of Trustees meets regularly at 7 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month at the Orion Municipal Complex, 2323 Joslyn Rd.