Thursday, January 27, 2011

Detroit City water board representation

“No taxation without representation,” is a phrase that came out of the American Revolution.

When the government charges for something, either direct taxes on property or income or a fee for usage, it is a tax. By making that payment, representation should also be provided.

The Detroit water system provides the water that all of us in our homes. They charge a fee for that service but the residents of the suburbs do not have any direct oversight or representation on the water board of the city. That is in direct violation of the compact between a community’s government and its residents.

John McCulloch, Water Resources Commissioner for Oakland County, filed a motion in federal court asking to create a regional management board to oversee the water system. The system provides water and sewer treatment for 76 communities in the Detroit Metro area. About 3 million people use the water every day. McCulloch’s plan would allow each community to have some representation on the board. It would be able to bypass the current board, Detroit Water and Sewage Department, and the Detroit City Council. The council currently approves water rates for the system.

The water system and the suburbs have been fighting for control for over 30 years. The system, according to the Oakland Press article about the issue, is in violation of federal law. Depending on how the violations are settled, the suburbs could pay up to 60% of the cost of a fix to bring it in to compliance. This alone would be reason to have representation on the board and oversight of the expenditures.

There are those that argue that the representation on the board flows through the state. State legislation established the ability of the Detroit Water board to provide water to residents outside of the city. But that representation is indirect and convoluted.

It the federal courts don’t end this problem with a long term solution than the state needs to step in and provide legislation that does. Only by receiving proper and direct representation on the board by the residents of the communities the system serves can we achieve a long term solution that doesn’t violate the compact residents have with their community’s governments.

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