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Suburbs to "subsidize" Highland Park's unpaid bills with sewer rate hike

Ricardo Solis/Flickr

Sewer rates are going up for Detroit's suburbs by nearly 5 percent – and most of that is to cover Highland Park's $30 million debt.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says it has to raise sewer rates on its suburban customers by 4.9% starting July 1. Without Highland Park's debt, the increase would have been 1.7%.

Last year, a court ruled Highland Park had to pay up. But the city appealed that ruling, and the case still hasn’t been settled.

Bill Wolfson, the GLWA general counsel and chief administrative and compliance officer, says he knows Highland Park is facing serious financial struggles. That’s why he’s hoping the state can step in.

"We hope they will come in and provide some assistance, both for the residents of Highland Park, but also for the residents who are subsidizing the water service within the city of Highland Park,” he says. “As sympathetic as we all may be to the city of Highland Park, we have to remember: There are people of limited financial means across this region. They have difficulty paying their waters bill, and yet they’re able to do that.”

A spokesperson for Governor Snyder’s office sent the following statement Friday:

“The state will be helping to facilitate discussions between Highland Park and GLWA, as well as talking to the city further about the city’s position on other issues.”

Meanwhile, Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp says he’s looking to the state as well for some clarity on another issue: “around $26 million” the city says it’s owed from MDOT and Wayne County for unpaid storm water services.

Yopp says the city could pay its sewer bills “if the governor just paid the debt that the state owed our residents.”

Jeff Cranson, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation, says discussions are ongoing between the city, the GLWA, and the state. “You should also note that Highland Park’s claims against MDOT for storm water treatment services arising before July 7, 2014 were dismissed by the court,” he said in an email Friday.

A Wayne County spokesperson says the county does not comment on pending litigation.  

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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