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Last year we reviewed how we charge for water service to ensure we will continue to cover increasing costs, investments, and to ensure equity across all customers. Our rate study analyzed both the rate structure, (how customers are charged for service) and the rates (the amount you pay per unit of water and for wastewater service). The goal was to update the structure to:
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City water and sewer utilities are self-supporting and receive no tax dollars – the only funding we receive is from water and wastewater rates you pay. Your payment ensures our ability to deliver high quality, reliable water in a manner that values our environment, community, and sustains the resources entrusted to our care.
Our rates are based on the cost to purchase our high-quality drinking water from Great Lakes Water Authority and then deliver it to you. On the wastewater side, our rates are based on the cost to collect, and send it to Macomb County for treatment; ultimately returning clean water to the environment. By law, what we charge customers must equal the costs to provide the service. The City cannot generate a profit from water and sewer rates.
The three main reasons are the increasing costs to purchase water from GLWA and to treat water by Macomb County. Later this year, GLWA and Macomb County will raise their rates we pay by 2.0% and 3.5%, respectively. These increases must be passed along to our customers. Second, is the investments we are making to modernize our systems. This includes $27 million in investments to provide automated meter reading and make major pipe replacements.
The results of the rate study allowed us to design a rate structure that has lower variable rates, no minimum usage charge, and a change to the sewer rate based on average winter consumption. In addition, the new rate structure discourages wasteful water usage.
The benefits of the water and sewer rate changes include:
Our water and sewer services are a great value to our customers – about a penny per gallon. Residential monthly water and sewer bills for fiscal year 2020/21 in the City averaged $64, and were lowest among 11 others surveyed in Macomb County.
Your actual water meter is usually located in the basement. The plastic box on the outside of the house is a remote reader. This remote reader is wired to the meter in the basement. Quarterly, the Department of Public Works gets meter readings via the remote, which is how we can accurately bill and is the reason why meter readers don’t knock on your door every three months asking to come inside to read your water meter.
Water meters are specifically engineered to prevent accelerated readings. In fact, as they wear out they will register zero consumption which then alerts the Department of Public Works crews to contact the customer and inspect the meter for potential replacement.
Since the meter readings are obtained from the remote reader located outside the house, the potential for a misread exists if there is a problem with the hard wiring to the water meter in the basement or with the remote reading devices. Misreads are extremely rare. The letter “A” following the “Current Read” on your bill indicates an actual read. To verify the reading shown on your bill, compare it to the reading on your water meter in the basement. The reading that you take (first 4 digits reading left to right) should be greater than the “Current Read” from the bill. If you subtract the bill’s “Current Read” amount from the reading you took, it will measure the amount of water consumed since the end date of the “Service Period” also shown on the bill.
Automated meter reading will enable us to transition to monthly billing in 2022. This will help customers plan and manage their water use better; and when the full installation of new meters is completed in two years, customers will be able to track usage by mobile phone app. The app will also allow customers to set leak alerts and excessive usage alerts so they can address them as they happen.
We estimate that for the average residential customer, these rate changes will smooth out seasonal fluctuations and result in an average bill of $65 per month, assuming some summer irrigation use. Compare that to average bills in Lansing, which average $106/month.
Water and sewer bills are among the lowest of household utility bills.
For context, here are some common water use activities and their approximate costs:
The city of Sterling Heights will not shut water off for non-payment. If a current bill is not paid by the due date, a one-time late fee of 6% of the charges is added to the account. Any bills that become 179 days past due are removed from the water account and put on the property taxes with an additional 17% penalty assessed for this action.
The resident needs to determine if they are supposed to pay their bill through the date of closing or when they turn the keys over, as listed in the purchase agreement of the house. Immediately prior to that date, the resident should read the 6-digit number off the water meter (usually the meter is located in the basement of the house). Phone in the reading to water billing (586-446-2320), who will provide a bill which can be picked up and paid or faxed to the title company/realtor handling the sale. Please allow 48 hours for final bill to be prepared.
A majority of high water bills are due to toilets that are leaking. Toilet leaks are often inaudible. Other things to check for are leaks in sprinkler systems, sump pumps that have water back-up systems, and dripping faucets.
It is important to determine and correct the problem because wasted water results in high bills. One way to check if you have a problem is to write down the six-digit number off the water meter (usually located in the basement of the house) before you go to bed at night. The following morning, go to the water meter and compare the readings. If the meter has moved while you were sleeping, that indicates something is using water. A more immediate check involves the red dial on the water meter. When the dial is spinning, water is going through the meter. The red dial should be still when there is no water usage.
Over a three-month billing period, it is impossible to expect your water bill to be identical to your neighbor’s. Simply put, peoples’ habits on water usage are different. Your neighbor may set the timer on their sprinkler system to water ten minutes less a day than you. They may have low-flow toilets in their house, which use 1.8 gallons of water per flush compared to your 3.6 gallon toilet. The water meter in your home is the actual gauge of how much water is used in the home.
The City is now offering an online service where customers can view their account history on the web. A consumption history graph for the last twelve bills can be viewed. Customers should select the “Make a Payment” option on the front page of the City's website, then select "Water and Sewer Utility Bills," then "Make a Payment Here." At the Utility Account Inquiry screen, the customer will type in their service street address and utility account number.
Customers paying water bills online do not have to pay any processing fee for the transaction. The credit card processing costs are absorbed by the City for water bills.
There are a number of things that could have prevented a customer from making a payment. They are listed in order of most common occurrence as follows:
The two most important areas for customers to analyze are lawn/landscape irrigation practices and the home maintenance routines, which are aimed at preventing toilet and faucet leaks.
Tips for efficient lawn and landscape irrigation are as follows: