Board nixes proposed sewer rate hike

Trustees’ deadlocked vote on 16.9% increase sends revenue-generating proposal back to Public Works Board
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

A proposed 16.9% increase in the municipal sewer rate for this year was rejected by the Grafton Village Board on a deadlocked vote Tuesday.

Last year, the board approved a 12.5% water rate increase along with annual sewer rate hikes through 2021. The board agreed to review the sewer rate increase each year.

If the hike was approved, the average annual sewer bill would increase by $88.80 — from $590 to $678.80 — for 2018. The proposal was being driven by a significant decrease in water and sewer use, based on a study conducted by Trilogy Consulting of Milwaukee.

Although the decrease may be difficult to believe considering commercial and residential growth in the village, the study reported that the amount of water sold by the village Water and Wastewater Utility decreased by 87.2 million gallons during the past 15 years. Use dropped from 412.6 million gallons in 2000 to 325.4 million gallons in 2015, according to the study.

“We’re not making enough money because people are using less water than they use to,” Trustee Lisa Uribe Harbeck said.

The decrease in sewer use accounts for a $202,574 loss in revenue for the utility, the study stated.

To make up for the shortfall, Trilogy recommended a revised sewer rate increase of 16.9% for this year, with annual increases of 15.3%, 15% and 0% in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Village officials said they expect those numbers to be higher, while the water rate increase would remain at 12.5%.

Initially, this year’s increase was proposed to be 15% after a 20% increase in 2017, but Trilogy recommended bumping up the rate for 2018.

Officials said that while the village has experienced significant growth since 2000, including the opening of Aurora Medical Center in 2010 and large retail stores in the east-side commercial district, those operations are relatively efficient water users. Several manufacturing companies, historically the largest water users, are no longer in operation.

Another reason for the proposed rate increase was to finance an  overhaul to the village’s wastewater treatment facility, which was built in 1983.

Public Works Facility Operations Coordinator Larry Roy said that while the plant has had various equipment upgrades over the years, the facility has exceeded its lifespan of 30 years.

“These projects have to happen regardless,” Village President Jim Brunnquell said. “After time, things wear out. It’s the cost of doing business.”

With a 3-3 vote, the board failed to approve the proposed sewer rate increase. Trustees Tom Krueger, Dean Proefrock and Brunnquell voted in favor, while David Antoine, Sue Meinecke and Harbeck were opposed. Trustee David Liss was not at the meeting.

Those who voted against the hike said they wanted to see alternative rates presented and other methods to support the upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.

The Board of Public Works will revisit the rate increase and make another recommendation for the Village Board to decide by September before the quarterly bill will be mailed to residents.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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