Linden — The 21 business owners in Linden will not have to pay back sewer tap-in fees on their existing businesses. On Tuesday, business owners learned of the news after receiving a hand-delivered letter from Interim City Manager/Police Chief Scott Sutter.
The letter, which was signed by Mayor David Lossing and Sutter, states, “Based upon Attorney (Charles) McKone’s advice the City Council voted unanimously to bring these businesses into compliance without a fee and to establish their baseline for sewer units according to the sewer unit audit that was conducted by the City in November 2012.
“We expect this will resolve the issue but if you have any question please do not hesitate to call the City Manager.”
Sutter confirmed that each of the 21 business owners will be contacted.
Prior to this action, which was voted upon in executive session after Monday’s meeting, Lossing and city officials were attempting to collect fees for 80 sewer tap-ins. At $3,000 per tap-in fee, city officials would have raised $240,000.
Numerous business owners attended Monday’s city council meeting and inquired about the proposed fees. Doug James, who has been doing business in Linden for 35 years, said that sewer fees were never an issue when he presented business plans to the planning commission.
“We live in tough times. This comes at a bad time for businesses,” James said.
Terry Wright, who has served on the city’s planning commission and the Linden Board of Education, said the actions of the city council and Lossing did not make sense.
“If you read the articles in the (Times), it almost looks like we’re criminals — like we’ve stolen something from the city,” Wright told the Times on Tuesday. “Over the years, we’ve had plenty of consultants either in advisory or more hands-on positions…these points have never come up. There’s more than one set of eyes on this.”
Business owners also accused the city of trying to charge sewer fees from decades past. Adree Rocheleau, who owns Barbichon Dog Grooming, said Sutter and another city worker told her that she would have to pay 32 years worth of back sewer fees. Jim McIntyre, who owns the building that houses the Subway sub shop, said the city council was attempting to collect 15 years worth of back sewer fees from him. Linden Hotel Owner Jack Furry said he was told that he would have to pay for 30 years worth of back fees.
State Representative Joseph Graves (R – Argentine) of the 51st District pledged to introduce legislation in Lansing that will prevent municipalities from imposing excessive sewer fees.
“No one should be expected to pay a bill they were not charged, nor should they pay for a city’s mistake years down the road,” Graves said in a press release.
In an article published Jan. 23, Lossing told the Times that the sewer fees stemmed from a November 2012 sewer audit. Business owners approached the city council as early as October however, after receiving letters about the fees.
Lossing said the audit revealed that several businesses were deficient in sewer tap-in fees. Lossing also said the city was pressured by the county to impose the fees.
In the same article, Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright told the Times that the county is currently not increasing sewer rates. Wright also said the county does not collect tap-in fees and that municipalities keep all proceeds from sewer tap-ins.
The Feb. 6 open meeting between Lossing, Sutter, City Attorney Charles McKone and Department of Public Works employee Jason Payne is still scheduled to take place.