The City of Jackson takes issue with claims about proposed water rate increases that are being propagated by a group of corporations lead by Consumers Energy. It’s a group that was recently formed after Consumers filed a lawsuit against the City in an attempt to pay 38% of what every other user in the system pays. A press release, which was sent out from the group Monday morning, contains glaring falsehoods and intentional misinformation.
The group’s press release sites unofficial figures that were gathered over the past year from conversations with City officials, news reports, and unverified online statistics. No final numbers on water rate increases have been formally proposed to the City Council, nor have they been accepted. Still, throughout their press release, the group presents inaccurate projections as to what the water rates could mean for residents and businesses.
Arbitrary comparison: One claim that appears several times in the press release is that Jackson’s lead service line replacement program is the most expensive in the nation and higher than similar proposals in Michigan. Once again, speculative numbers and low-cost projections are used to prop up their claims. It’s also difficult to compare Jackson to other communities, seeing as other municipalities are using different funding sources and have varying timelines. The City of Jackson wants to make sure all associated costs are accounted for before proposing the rate increases to the council. The cost of the program goes beyond replacing lead service lines, and includes the costs that would be incurred from labor, equipment costs, and repairs that will have to be made to streets, sidewalks, lawns and homes.
Market value: A paragraph that’s particularly alarming to City officials is where the group uses false information to embolden its position. They seem to be tying a home’s market value to the cost of the program. Market value is never used to figure water rates, and the City has never spoken about using that as a factor in lead service lines.
Individual residents: The coalition also claims 33,000 residents would see water bills increase. Water services are only billed to property owners and not individual residents.
Inaccurate timeline: The press release claims the City of Jackson has not been transparent about this process. However, City officials have been speaking to residents and businesses since Aug. 1, 2018, about proposed water rate increases. Presentations have been made during City Council meetings, neighborhood meetings and to various organizations throughout the community, including the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and Consumers Energy.
False claims about low-income residents: The group claims the City is not showing concern for the low-income residents that could be impacted by rising water rates. If the group waited for the City to formally announce its plans, they would have seen that the City is proposing different ways water rate increases can be offset for low-income users.
Council meeting: The group also seems to be using its position to pressure the City Council before any formal proposal can be considered. Their press release mentions the council will be voting on the proposal at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11, although no vote on this matter is scheduled for the meeting, only a presentation.
Replacing lead service lines is an unfunded mandate from the State of Michigan, intended to remove lead and galvanized service lines to protect families from lead water exposure, and to prevent another situation similar to the Flint Water Crisis. The City of Jackson wants to protect local families from lead dangers and is complying with the State law.
Since no funding is coming from the State to comply with this law, the City is forced to increase water rates to pay for this massive undertaking, which will see every lead service line in Jackson replaced. The City is currently looking for ways to lessen any negative impacts that could come to residents and businesses from increased water rates.
The Coalition for Clean and Affordable Water was formed immediately following Consumers Energy filing a lawsuit against the City over a water rate agreement. Consumers Energy and its staff are involved in the coalition, and are responsible for this inaccurate press release going out to local media.
While Consumers Energy is pursuing legal action to receive a 62% discount on water, the City feels this group is putting their hometown, and neighboring businesses, in an unfortunate position. With Consumers Energy as the City’s biggest water user, the less they pay means higher water bills for its fellow businesses and neighbors.
The City of Jackson continues to work on behalf of residents to find solutions to proposed water rate increases and is dedicated to making sure any increase is instituted in the most equitable way possible.