Sewer bills in Howell

Sewer bills in Howell

to be reduced by 5%
GOP mayoral candidate
also wants to give
customers a rebate
Staff Writer
HOWELL — The township’s 7,000 sewer utility customers will see their sewer bills slashed 5 percent under a Republican plan announced July 6.

The decision follows a cost analysis by township Finance Officer Jeffrey Filiatreault, said Councilman Joseph M. DiBella, who made the announcement.

DiBella, the Republican candidate for mayor, followed the announcement with another boon for ratepayers — a proposed one-time rebate of $107 for each sewer utility customer.

The rate rollback and proposed rebate were opposed by Mayor Timothy J. Konopka, a Democrat who called the move a "political ploy" by Republicans to sway voters.

Konopka is not seeking a third term in the November election.

The $161 quarterly sewer rate customers now pay will be lowered to $152.95 per quarter. The rebate, DiBella said, would come from $750,000 of the $1.2 million surplus in the sewer utility.

DiBella said afterward that Filiatreault would be conducting a spreadsheet analysis before any action is taken on the rebate.

"We would still have $450,000 left in the surplus now," DiBella said, noting that another $200,000 in surplus could be generated by the end of the year, even with the 5 percent reduction.

"I caution you strongly regarding depleting the surplus," Konopka said at the meeting.

Afterward, he said a "dangerous precedent" was being set by using the sewer utility surplus.

"If we left it (surplus) alone, we would have stable rates the next 20 years plus we could see to whatever emergencies arise," he said.

"They’re monkeying around with a system that’s not broken, but they’re going to break it due to politics," Konopka added.

Controversy on the issue first erupted among the Township Council when Konopka, who for months had appeared to work amicably with the majority Republican council, voted against adoption of the 2004 budget, which used $750,000 of the sewer utility’s $1.9 million surplus to shave 3 cents off the tax increase, benefiting all residents.

Reacting to the mayor’s criticism of the plan as being "political," DiBella said, "If we were going willy-nilly for a rebate, that could be construed as a political move."

However, he said, because he had asked Filiatreault to prepare an analytical projection before acting on the pro-posed rebate, that demonstrates nothing is being proposed without a proper foundation.

As for the remaining $1.2 million in surplus and the 5 percent rate reduction, DiBella said, "In my opinion, that surplus could be reduced."

He said the council did not act on the rate reduction until after Filiatreault had signed off on the proposal.

"A 5 percent reduction was warranted as per Jeff’s analysis," DiBella said. "People were unhappy the surplus was so big, but still we didn’t return the money until we were sure it was the right thing to do."

Using $750,000 from the sewer surplus in this year’s municipal budget reduced what would have been an 8-cent increase in the municipal tax rate to a 5-cent increase per $100 of assessed valuation.

Konopka continues to maintain that using the surplus funds is wrong, as any surplus revenue at the sewer utility belongs to the ratepayers who have paid into the fund, and not to the community’s taxpayers at-large.

Also, Konopka worries about depleting a surplus he says can never be considered too big if it is there to meet emergency repairs such as the $1 million spent in 1997 to repair infiltration into the township’s piping infrastructure.

According to DiBella, a four-year analysis of the sewer department demonstrates that the department generates an average surplus of $770,000 each year.

DiBella said a surplus of that size each year meant ratepayers were paying too much and demonstrated the need for a rate reduction.