Portage Twp. debates water, sewer usage fees

PORTAGE TOWNSHIP – At its regular meeting Monday, the Portage Township Board of Trustees discussed how to charge for sewer and water service to cover shortages in those funds, but there was disagreement on the best method to use.

Trustee Andrew Kemper said he did some calculating and determined it would be better to charge for usage rather than use a base rate, particularly because there are large users in the township, such as the Houghton-Portage Township School District.

“It just seems to me a more fair way to go,” he said.

Petersen said if the fee was based on usage, customers may reduce usage.

“You never know how people will act with a quantity change,” he said.

Kemper said, based on his calculations, he doesn’t think the township will lose money by charging based on usage.

“We’re still going to capture the same amount of revenue,” he said.

Trustee John Ollila said he thought it was already decided at a December board meeting to go with a base rate fee structure, and he realizes more work will have to be done to fix the funds.

“It’s not a complete fix,” he said.

Ollila suggested the water and sewer committee meet to determine if usage should be used to determine fees, and Petersen agreed that would be a good idea.

Trustee Bill Bingham said he agreed the charge for sewer and water should be based on usage.

“I don’t think people will reduce their usage,” he said.

Bingham then made a motion to rescind the decision from the December meeting to charge a base rate and instead calculate based on usage.

Bingham, Kemper and Clerk Jamie Solka voted yes with Ollila, Petersen, Treasurer Carol Little and Trustee Peggy Anderson voting no, so the motion failed.

Petersen said it was suggested by township attorney Nicholas Daavettila the rates for sewer and water be removed from the sewer and water ordinance, which would allow the board to make any rate changes through resolution – which is the way most townships in Michigan do it – rather than going through the process of calling a public hearing on any changes.

Bingham disagreed with that idea.

“I really think with any change regarding money, we should have a public hearing,” he said.

No change was made to the December decision to charge a base rate for sewer and water.

The board members also discussed the plan to create a township website.

Petersen said a Michigan Technological University student was working on developing a township logo and website, but he left to get a job.

Petersen said he did some checking and found for all the information needed in the website, 45 pages will be needed.

“It’s not a small website,” he said.

Petersen said he contacted one vendor and was told they could create the logo and build the website for an initial cost of $3,500. There would also be a $75 monthly fee to host the site.

The vendor has done websites for the National Park Service and Houghton and Keweenaw counties, among others, Petersen said.

“Apparently, he’s very good at what he does,” he said.

In response to questions from board members, Petersen said the main technical work on the site would be done by the vendor and each township department head would be instructed how to add information to the site.

Petersen said the $3,500 cost could be charged to the various township departments, but Bingham said that may become cumbersome and it would be better to charge it to the general fund.

“It just makes sense,” he said.

Board members voted unanimously to approve the $3,500 fee to Opusweb.com contingent on the website committee of Petersen and Kemper meeting with company representatives first to discuss the needs of the township website.

In other business, board members:

approved putting the draft township master plan out for public review for 63 days.

reviewed a suggested storm water runoff ordinance.

reviewed the water rate increase from water provider Adams Township. The rate increased from $1.12 per 1,000 gallons to $1.16 per 1,000 gallons.

approved advertising for a person to clean the township office building.

heard from Petersen a company offering wireless Internet and telephone service would like to put antennas on the township water tower in Dodgeville.