Something stinks about Scottville commission candidate’s campaign letter.

October 19, 2016

scottville city hallSomething stinks about Scottville commission candidate’s campaign letter.

#MasonCountyElection #Scottville

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

SCOTTVILLE — A city commission candidate has been trying to convince Scottville voters that the city is somehow profiting from its water and sewer account. However, a letter distributed recently to select households in the city only tells a small portion of the truth.

Ed Hahn was elected to a four year city commission term in November 2014 and abruptly resigned in January 2016 without explanation. During his tenure on the commission, he continually questioned the city’s funding of its utilities — and was continually given the accurate information. He is now running for a city commission seat again.

In Hahn’s letter, he attempts to state that the city is overcharging its residents for water and sewer and is somehow billing its residents over $80,000 (for six months) more than what is needed to pay the expense of the water and sewer. Hahn’s math does not account for other expenses the water and sewer system incurs, even though this reporter has witnessed the breakdown explained to Hahn and members of the city commission and public many times by not only the city manager but also by a third party, neutral accounting firm that audits the city’s books every year.

City Manager Amy Williams said, as she has multiple times, that Hahn is only telling a half truth, which ultimately is misleading. “The city’s water and sewer fund is not as simple as being charged a certain amount for water and sewer and then passing that expense on to the residents,” Williams said. “There are other expenses associated with the fund. For one, there are administrative costs. The city’s budget is broken down to account for what it costs the city to maintain the infrastructure of its utility system. When something breaks, somebody has to fix it. That’s what our Department of Public Works does and the expenses are paid for through the water and sewer funds. The DPW also performs preventative maintenance as well.”

A major expense in the water and sewer fund is the fund’s current debt.

“Residents who lived in this town 20 years ago are very familiar with the fact that our city faced a major crisis with its sewer system,” Williams said. “Up until the late ‘90s, the city’s waste water was processed in a lagoon system on the east side of Riverside Park. That system was antiquated and began failing, causing sewer to overflow into the Pere Marquette River. The city faced major fines from the Department of Environmental Quality.”

The sewer lagoon system was installed sometime after World War II. While it was built to the standards of the time, the lagoons were not capable of handling new mandates, recalled George C. Wilson, a former Scottville resident and historian on the area. “Many people blamed the state for steering the city wrong when it assured the city the lagoons would be a long term solution. They barely lasted a generation,” Wilson said. Wilson’s father, George F. Wilson, served as the city’s mayor when the sewer system reached its critical stage.

“With the failure of the lagoon system, the city made a decision to become part of the Mason County wastewater system,” Williams said. “Hooking up to the system, which runs from the city to the Ludington wastewater treatment facility on Sixth Street east of Pere Marquette Highway, cost Scottville millions of dollars but it was an investment that needed to be made.”

The city’s taxpayers continue to pay off the debt for that sewer system through monthly water and sewer bills. In addition, residents are paying for future repairs to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure, such as the recent water main replacement project that has been taking place since May.

“Basically, water and sewer bills not only pay for the expense of water and sewage, but also pay for the debt of the existing system and also pay for the replacement of the system in the future,” Williams said. “It’s just a fact that at some point these pipes will need to be replaced. You don’t have to look any further than Flint to see what happens when a utility system gets neglected.”

Williams added that the residents pay much more for sewer than they do for water, to account for the sewer system replacement and debt.

The costs of Scottville’s sewer and water expense are a matter of perspective.

“In a regional survey comparing water and sewer expenses of city’s in west Michigan, Scottville is right in the middle,” Williams said. “The perception is that our water and sewer is expensive because it is often compared to Ludington, which has a considerably low water rate.”

In 2015, a consultant hired by the City of Ludington told its city council that it had one of the lowest water rates in the state.

“Our city runs on a shoestring budget,” Williams said. “Every dime the city charges its residents for taxes and utilities is used to pay for the expenses needed to provide quality services to our residents and property owners. I welcome anyone to come to city hall and look over the budget themselves. I, or anyone in the city hall office would be more than happy to answer any questions.”

Hahn is challenging Connie Duncil for the seat of commissioner-at-large. Duncil is a lifelong resident of Mason County and has lived in Scottville most of her life. She has served on city commission consecutively for four years. Hahn moved to Scottville within the past 10 years from the Detroit area.