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Kalamazoo considers water utility rate increases

Kalamazoo City Hall - file photo. Photo by Sehvilla Mann, WMUK
Sehvilla Mann
Commissioners will vote on new utility rates at the September 19 Kalamazoo Commission Meeting in City Hall. Regular business meetings start at 7 p.m.

Kalamazoo water and sewage prices appear likely go up by 20%.

If approved by the Kalamazoo City Commission on September 19, this would be the seventh increase since 2017. The last one took effect in March.

The city planned to ask for smaller double-digit increases for 2023, but Public Service Director James Baker said inflation changed the department’s predictions for the year. He said the new request is based on increased costs for fuel, chemicals, supplies, and materials, as well as rising costs for wastewater disposal and sludge hauling.

“So, what that means is that had all of our projections held true, back then, we would be recommending in February of 2023 15% rate increase for water, 12% rate increase for wastewater,” said Baker.

Additional expenses prompted the request for additional revenue six months sooner than initially planned.

“So that’s how we changed from that 15% recommendation to that 20% recommendation,” said Baker.

If approved, sewage rates will go up first, on October 1. Drinking water rates will increase on January 1. Baker estimated the impact for Kalamazoo residents will be between $8.94 and $14.93 more a month for both water and sewage, depending on usage. Township residents, can expect to pay an additional $10.24 to $17.34 per month. Even with a 20% increase, Baker said Kalamazoo is still well below most other cities.

“Looking at statewide averages, the average utility bill is about $69 a month and Kalamazoo remains well below that. So, it's perhaps, you know, doesn't help a family out. But it does help to put things in perspective, where Kalamazoo is in terms of some of the other communities in Michigan,” said Baker.

Baker said “we’re going to protect folks” if the rate hike is approved and there is help for people who need it. Payment plans are available by calling the city at 3-1-1. Baker said Kalamazoo has also partnered with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Community Action Agency to help families below the federal poverty line.

“One of the things we're doing in 2023 is we're extending the no water shut off,” said Baker. “So, if for whatever reason, if a family is falling behind, and for whatever reasons, they don't have to worry about that fear of having that water shut off. So that we're going to protect folks.”

Baker said the new rate increases will not only cover inflationary expenses, they will also help cover the cost of necessary repairs and improvements, like the removal of lead service lines. Baker said that project will be 50% completed in late 2024 or by early 2025. All lead pipes are expected to be completely removed by 2037.

The Kalamazoo City Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal on September 19. Once approved, Baker said this increase should carry the city through the end of 2023, but customers can expect further hikes in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.