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Oakland County Dips its Toe a Little Farther into Regional Water Utility with Macomb

Both counties say they don't want to be part of a plan that requires an annual lease payment of $47 million, but striking out on their own could be cost prohibitive, experts say.

Oakland County authorized up to $3 million for a study to explore the feasibility of establishing a water and sewer utility with Macomb County. (Patch file photo)
Oakland County authorized up to $3 million for a study to explore the feasibility of establishing a water and sewer utility with Macomb County. (Patch file photo)

In a unanimous 9-0 vote Thursday, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ Finance Committee  took another step toward creating a regional water authority with Macomb County, authorizing up to $3 million to study alternatives to what officials characterize as “the continued monopolistic use” of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The action, which goes before the full Board of Commissioners on April 17, is another blow to the financially troubled Detroit utility, which is trying to put together a regional water authority as part of an effort to restructure the city’s $18 billion in debt. the Detroit Free Press reports.

Officials in both Oakland and Macomb counties have said they don’t want to be part of the plan, which would require a minimum annual lease payment of $47 million to help the utility recover from years of mismanagement and debt, which Oakland County officials said has exceeded $1.5 billion over the past seven years, but striking out on their own is an expensive proposition, experts warned. 

Long-term contracts with the Detroit utility could also complicate the plan.

Macomb County officials haven’t authorized money for the study, but Richard Sulaka Jr., deputy commissioner of Macomb County Public Works, said officials there are interested in exploring alternatives to Detroit Water and Sewerage if it would protect rate payers from increases.

The Detroit utility serves 4 million customers, making it one of the largest water and sewer utilities in the country. It provides water service to 34 Oakland County communities and sewer services to 37 towns and townships.

The move comes a week after Detroit Water and Sewer Department announced it would seek private contracts to operate and manage the system. That decision stemmed from a breakdown in talks with surrounding communities to form a regional utility.

TELL US: Do you support a regional water and sewer utility that breaks from Detroit Water and Sewerage Department? 

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