TAWAS CITY – Among the items discussed at the Feb. 16 Tawas City Council meeting, police chief Matthew Klosowski-Lorenz said there have been a lot of drug overdoses lately – with the department responding to two such incidents that day.

According to the chief, these particular events have involved people from downstate, who are either dropped off or otherwise end up in Tawas. “It’s becoming quite the problem in our area.” 

Therefore, he says a response plan is being worked on to take this issue seriously and to try to curb it before summertime. “It’s unfortunately made it up to our neck of the woods even stronger, and we’re going to take care of it.”

Councilman Mike Russo asked if there is a certain drug which has been a common denominator in the overdoses, to which Klosowski-Lorenz said it has been heroin or methamphetamine.

He added that the department has also handled several overdoses where the individual thought it was heroin, and there ended up being fentanyl laced with it.

He further noted that there was quite a bit of meth seized the week prior, just north of Tawas City.

“But it’s spiraling, so we need to get it taken care of,” he stressed.

“Chief, these are non-residents of the county or city?” asked Councilman Ed Nagy.

“Correct,” Klosowski-Lorenz confirmed. He said his suspicion is that they come here to get the drugs and, once they do, they either can’t handle it or it’s laced. This then results in a call to the police department. “And so, we’re working with the local narcotics team, as well as MSP [Michigan State Police] K-9, to assist us and try to get this under control.”

In a similar scenario, he said a Tawas City Police Department officer recently responded to an overdose at the hospital. The MSP narcotics team immediately got involved, and made several arrests in that case.

Related to this, City Manager Annge Horning pointed out information which appeared in last week’s edition of this publication.

As reported, the MSP narcotics team – Strike Team Investigative Narcotics Group (STING) – seized more meth this January than the last three years combined. STING is a multi-jurisdictional task force, covering Crawford, Roscommon, Iosco, Arenac, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties.

“So it’s getting to be more popular up here,” Horning echoed.

Thankfully, though, the police are getting their hands on it, she said.

In separate updates, Mayor Ken Cook – who chairs the Huron Shore Regional Utility Authority (HSRUA) Board – said the authority held a special meeting the week prior. It was revealed that there was an error in the reporting form for the meter readings which are given to all the municipalities.

As has been reported, HSRUA provides treated water to Tawas City, East Tawas and Oscoda, AuSable and Baldwin townships.

When water flows through the regional system and it moves between the communities, there are meters at all of the borders, Cook said. In Tawas City’s case, water comes from two directions.

There is a water line on US-23, with the meter pit located on the vacant land by O’Reilly Auto Parts. There is another meter pit on Westover Street, near the back driveway to Walmart.

Cook said there are two issues going on now, one being that the US-23 meter is not reading properly. This isn’t the high-flow meter, he pointed out. The high-flow meter is on Westover, through which many more gallons pass.

As for the second issue, he said there was an error on the spreadsheet, caused by somebody accidentally changing the formula on the fields that were being added and subtracted. Numbers were calculated incorrectly, resulting in East Tawas being overbilled. “And predominantly, it affected them and it caused them to have many more gallons than they actually used – and this goes back to October 2019.”

Cook said the HSRUA Board, at their next meeting, will be dealing with the possibility of revising this coming year’s budget, along with a small adjustment for last year’s budget. “That’s not a lot of money. It’s actually about $4,000.”

However, for the current year, he noted that the change is close to $50,000. “So I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I have a proposal that I’m going to make to that board as the representative but I think, in theory, we could all have to pay more.”

Cook did say, though, that he believes there is a way around this.

“Right now, we would have to go from $164,800 to $172,400. So our cost of operation would go up by $7,600,” he continued. “And that’s just how it impacts us. It impacts all the municipalities. The hardest impact is to Oscoda; theirs actually goes up about $22,000.”

So, Cook says he is looking for alternatives to this. “But I just wanted to give you a report that we could be faced with a budget adjustment that might have an impact on us, although, I’m hoping to be able to get around that.”

Mayor Pro Tem Brian McMurray asked if this would affect the residents, or just the municipalities.

Cook said that HSRUA sells water to the cities and townships. The municipalities, then, sell it to the residents. So, if Tawas City expends an extra $7,600 for example, it would fall back on Horning to determine if a rate adjustment is needed again.

Horning shared that Tawas City’s current budget has $190,000 allocated for HSRUA, which is significantly more than what they are actually contributing. “So our budget will be okay, regardless of what we have to contribute. It’s not going to be more than $190,000.”

McMurray sought confirmation that this is not an issue with the individual meters people have on their homes in Tawas City.

“No, this has to do with master meters between city lines,” Cook said.

He also noted that there are nearly $430,000 in projects on the books for this year, in HSRUA’s capital improvement budget. Since the integrity of the system for all the municipalities depends on the reliability of the meters, a few have recently been replaced in some of the various locations. Of the $430,000, about $190,000 has been budgeted this year to replace the rest of the meters, so they will all be within three years old.

Fortunately, Cook said, the error was caught and has been corrected. “Unfortunately, it affects the budget. But it had to be fixed. It’s necessary. It was just a pure human error, mathematical error, that went on to a spreadsheet.”

When Nagy asked who caused the error, Cook said it was a former employee of Fleis & VandenBrink Operations (F&V), the contractor which operates HSRUA.

He explained that F&V has staff who reads the meters every week, and other F&V staff then punch the numbers into the spreadsheet program. Somewhere along the line, the formula only got changed on one of the fields.

According to Cook, the person responsible is no longer with F&V; not because of this, but because he moved on to another job.

He reiterated that this is just an FYI, and he is hopeful that the resolution is not going to cost the municipalities a lot of money. “I think found a way around it.”

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