Highland Park faces financial emergency with over $19M in unpaid water bills

Council invoked Public Act 436, asking Governor Whitmer to determine whether a financial emergency exists

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. – The City of Highland Park warned the governor’s office Monday night that a $19 million water tab could trigger a financial emergency.

After years of litigation over nonpayment of bills, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Great Lakes Water Authority, which means the millions in arrears the city is to GLWA are to be paid.

The problem is Highland Park doesn’t have the money.

In a special city council session on Monday (April 10) night, the council invoked Public Act 436, asking Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to determine whether a financial emergency exists.

The council was asking for an expedited answer from Lansing before GLWA can start trying to recoup all those millions on Highland Park residents’ tax bills.

The council estimates it would raise tax bills threefold and is trying to head that off.

Public Act 436 allows for the review of the city’s finances, and some remedies include bankruptcy, financial management, or possibly an appropriation to backfill the bill.

Highland Park had its own water system that was in such disrepair it was closed down in 2012, and the city was put on Detroit Water and Sewer, which later morphed into the regional Great Lakes Water Authority.

Nonpayment of bills has been going on for years. Council estimates the city generates $9 million in revenue yearly.

The U.S. Census Bureau says 40% of the people in the city live in poverty.

“We’d like them to look at our circumstance,” said City Council President Jamal K Thomas. “That’s the best we can hope for.”

About the Authors:

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.