Water authority, Highland Park dispute alleged $52 million charge

GLWA says other communities are paying the debt
Posted at 7:21 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 19:23:29-05

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (WXYZ) — As the Great Lakes Water Authority prepares to increase water and sewer rates for metro Detroit communities, the agency partly blames the city of Highland Park for the increase.

The city is accused of failing to pay its bills. As a result, GLWA passes the debt onto other communities.

Despite numerous legal filings and settlements, the dispute lingers. GLWA claims the city owes $52 million and that it has racked the debt up since 2012.

Interim CEO Suzanne Coffey says the city’s paid less than 1% of water charges since 2012.

"Since April of last year, we haven’t received anything from Highland Park," Coffey told 7 Action News.

Highland Park City Administrator Cathy Square disagrees.

“Highland Park has overpaid. Highland Park has overpaid," she said.

Square said a settlement in February of 2021, which ordered the city of Detroit to pay Highland Park $1 million, resolved the problem.

She said Highland Park is supposed to pay the same fixed water and sewer rates that it’s been paying since 1996.

“These lawsuits have provided us an opportunity to really understand what’s going on and to go back to the 1983 contract, the 1996 contract and follow it. They just stopped following it downtown," Square said.

"And what they’re saying is any bill that we create, we can just send to you ad hoc, and you’re obligated to pay it," she added.

Brian Baker is a GLWA board member and the GLWA representative for Macomb County. He says the water and sewer rates are not fixed for any community nor are they changed at random.

“I think all of us would love to pay a gas rate from 25 years ago. Right, there’s inflation. There’s increase in investments in the water and sewer system that are needed of which Highland Park has benefited," he explained.

"So for anyone to claim that there’s a prior agreement that their rate is fixed in perpetuity is just mistaken," Baker added.

He said Highland Park’s unpaid charges are being recovered by passing the bad debt onto other communities to pay, and that that's unfair.

“Macomb residents alone, $14.5 million that we pay because Highland Park has not paid. Oakland County, it's $23 million. Wayne County, $21 million," he explained.

Baker is calling on the state of Michigan to step in.

GLWA said it "sued the State of Michigan and the City of Highland Park to reimburse these communities. These lawsuits are pending.”