Menomonee Falls fighting potential water rate increase

June 24, 2014

Menomonee Falls — The fight to keep water rates down has resumed in Menomonee Falls.

As the result of a proposed 28.7 percent increase by Milwaukee Water Works, the average homeowner in the village could see their water bill spike by as much as about 9 percent. That estimate is based on the 1 percent increase users saw as a result of a 3-percent increase in the rates.

The number came as a bit of a shock to Village President Randy Newman, who stopped Director of Utilities Jeff Nettesheim in the middle of his recent presentation on the matter.

"I don't think we can walk away from that," Newman said. "Are you going to tell us how that's not going to be as much?"

Menomonee Falls is one of nine suburbs that have joined together to fight the proposed increases. These communities pipe in water from Milwaukee Water Works, a utility owned by the city of Milwaukee.

"We have engaged a consultant team who is doing an independent analysis of the increase request," said Nettesheim. "We're confident we can reduce this significantly, but it is still probably going to result in some increase in cost to us."

The consultants testify on the village's behalf to the Public Service Commission, which is currently reviewing the proposal.

As it stand, the increase would affect the 87 percent of homeowners whose water is sourced from Lake Michigan. The other 13 percent of the village west of the subcontinental divide is serviced by wells. The exact figures will not be known until the Public Service Commission approves it, which it hopes to do by August. The PSC does not have oversight of sewer rates.

It is the second time in recent years the village was faced with the potential for an increase of this size. In 2010, a proposed 36 percent hike was reduced to 8.2 percent through negotiations with the PSC.

This time around, the village is challenging the reasons for the increase, such as the water cost is a good value compared to those of similar metropolitan areas, and the increasing costs of wages, benefits and operations.

Based on the average household size of 2.5 people in Menomonee Falls, Nettesheim estimated the average water bill at about $232 a quarter, or just shy of $930 a year. The bill is broken down between a sewer charge of about $158, a meter charge of about $11 and a flow charge of $63. The flow charge is what would be susceptible to the increase, Nettesheim said. Using the estimate of a 9-percent increase, the change could amount to a $5.67 additional charge per quarter, or about $23 a year.

In 2010, the village reduced the sewer portion of the bill to offset the water increase, but Nettesheim said he doesn't anticipate that being the case this time around

"Right now, we are talking with very rough numbers to get a ballpark of the worst-case scenario," he said.

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