Water users could see $7.44 increase on next bill

Waukesha Freeman
May 16, 2018
By Cara Spoto

Waukesha — Waukesha water customers will see a new charge on their next quarterly bill, under a plan approved Tuesday by the Common Council.

Alderman voted 14-0 to add “return flow” charges to water and sewer bills next month. The new charge, part of the Lake Michigan diversion project, is expected to increase the average residential bill by $7.44 per quarter.

Starting June 1, water customers will be charged an additional 62 cents for every 1,000 gallons of water consumed. The charge is being assessed to pay for a $125.6 million pipeline that will return water back to Lake Michigan.

The added line item, which previously received the backing of the Waukesha Water Commission and the Board of Public Works, is expected to put $700,000 of revenue into the Waukesha Water Utility budget for the remaining seven months of the year, explained Dan Duchniak, the utility’s general manager.

Although construction on the 15-mile pipeline is not expected to begin until 2020, utility officials are in the early stages of designing and permitting the return flow infrastructure. Last month the utility took out $16.6 million in anticipation notes to fund the improvements.

Utility staffers have said the intent is to implement rate increases in a series of gradual steps so users are not met with a sizable wallop all at once.

According to utility projections, the return flow charge is expected to increase to $1.84 per 1,000 gallons of water consumed next year, or about $22.19 per quarter for an average residential user. Regular sewer and water rates are also expected to increase gradually over the next five years, with average quarterly bills for water, sewer and return flow charges projected to total $324 by the year 2023.

Discussing those projections on Tuesday, Duchniak noted that the numbers don’t take into the account the potential for federal aid that could end up reducing the burden on ratepayers.

“This assumes that all of the money will be spent over that time period; that we won’t see reductions in the cost of the program itself. And it assumes that there is no other federal assistance associated with this,” he said.

Mayor Shawn Reilly has expressed optimism about the city’s chances of being approved for at least some assistance through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

The city and utility plan to apply for aid through the WIFIA program, which provides low-cost supplemental loans for regionally and nationally significant water infrastructure projects.

The city’s application is due July 9, and Reilly said the city could find as early as September if it will be approved for aid.

Grandview Square outlot

In other items, aldermen spent more than 90 minutes focused on what turned out to be an unsuccessful proposal to amend a planned unit development (PUD) for the Grandview Square subdivision.

City staff had recommended that the PUD be changed to potentially allow a developer to place a single-family home on a long-vacant outlot at the subdivision.

The change would only allow him to develop the site, however, if he is able to get a deed restriction barring such development legally removed.

Residents of the subdivision, a handful of whom spoke during a lengthy public hearing on the issue, balked at the idea, however, saying they wanted the land to remain vacant.

City Attorney Brian Running urged the council to consider the city’s position regarding the parcel, which he noted has been inconsistently maintained.

In the end the proposal to permit an amended PUD failed 4-10.

Council proposal postponed

Aldermen did not discuss a proposal to reduce the 15-member Common Council to nine seats and make the mayor’s job a part-time position.

With Tuesday’s meeting having rounded into its third hour, one of the sponsors of the item, Aldermen Aaron Perry, put forward a successful motion to have the discussion tabled to the council’s June 5 meeting.

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