Water authority: Suburbs to pay Highland Park's unpaid water bills of $30M

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The city of Highland Park is more than $30 million behind in its water and sewer payments.

The Great Lakes Water Authority says the surrounding suburbs may have to foot the bill. But is the city of Highland Park or the state of Michigan to blame for the outstanding debt?

People living in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne County will have to pay an extra 3.2 percent in their sewer bills starting July 1 to help Highland Park deal with the debt.

"It doesn't seem fair that some people are going to be paying a lot more because they're giving a break to some other people," said Warren resident Paul Holland.

The Great Lakes Water Authority has been crunching numbers since taking over water and sewer management of Highland Park from Detroit last January.

"They had three financial emergency managers before 2010," said Brian Baker, a Macomb County representative from the GLWA. "Since 2010 they haven't had any, and since then, this unpaid debt has just skyrocketed."

And with debt growing about $13,000 each day, they say, there's no choice but to force others to pitch in.

"Ultimately the residents of Highland Park should be paying for it," Baker said. "I'm not blaming them; they haven't been billed for a lot of their water and sewage. I really blame the government officials in Highland Park."

Highland Park City Council President Rodney Patrick says the root of the issue is complex.

"Our population has changed, but DWSD hadn't changed the formula of how they're charging us," he said. "They haven't adjusted any rates, so before we look at any payments or any debt that's thought to be owed, we want to make sure this debt is accurate."

On top of a decreasing population, He says the city has pending lawsuits against MDOT and Wayne County concerning water bills he believes they may be responsible for.

"We don't believe we owe that kind of money," Patrick said. "I understand their frustration, we are just as frustrated. This is something the state did to the city of Highland Park, and we really have no desire to be on the Great Lakes Water Authority system through DWSD, we have our own water system."

Both sides, pointing fingers at the other, but both agree, this growing mess is up to the state to fix.

"The state has some responsibility in this matter," Baker said. "They've had emergency financial managers. The city of Highland Park is still under state oversight."

"We asked the governor back in January to get involved," Patrick said. "To come through, sit down with everybody and fix this."

FOX 2 also reached out to the Governor's office to ask if and how they plan to sort this out.

We were told in a statement: "The state will be helping to facilitate discussions between Highland Park and GLWA, as well as talking to the city further about the city's position on other issues."