Village approves 3% sewer rate increase

Money helps replenish equipment replacement fund that had been misused
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Belgium Village Board on Monday unanimously voted to increase the sewer rate by 3% to cover a shortfall in the equipment replacement fund.

The increase moves the quarterly rate of a 5/8-inch meter — encompassing 91% of the village’s customers — to a quarterly charge of $129.09.

The bump provides about $50,000 to the sewer equipment replacement fund. That, along with annual loan payments of $35,000 that fell off from refinancing sewer and water revenue bonds, should get the fund back to where it should be within five years, Treasurer Vickie Boehnlein said.

There had been a misunderstanding of how the fund was spent, she said.

Money from the fund had been used for maintenance of sewer equipment that wasn’t budgeted, which were “legitimate expenses” but not what the fund is intended for, Boehnlein said.

The fund, she said, is supposed to be used to save for replacement of major systems such as pumps to prevent the village from having to take out large loans when those items need to be replaced.

In related moves, the board directed the Department of Public Works update its equipment inventory for the wastewater treatment facility, which will provide some clarity on what needs to be replaced when. The board also approved a $3,000 purchase of accounting software that allows for easier tracking of equipment replacement.

Boehnlein said while the equipment replacement fund may return to where it should be in less than five years, it’s unlikely the rate would decrease by 3% since a larger project is on the horizon. The village has nine years to comply with new phosphorus levels determined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which, she said, could require a retrofit of the wastewater treatment plant.

The village has a variance that allows it to pay a fee to the DNR if phosphorus levels rise beyond a certain threshold. Last year, Boehnlein said, the village did not have to pay the fee.

The sewer rate increase will take effect Sept. 15.

Holding tank charges go to $15 per 1,000 gallons and septic tank costs go to $83.78 per 1,000 gallons.

This is the third time in three years the village has increased the sewer rate by 3%. The last increase took effect in March 2018, one year after the first 3% increase.

In late 2017, the board said the increase was needed to catch up with operating costs and maintenance.

Early in 2017, the board noted that the sewer utility had been running a deficit that the village paid for with its fund balance — essentially a savings account for emergencies and one-time purchases — triggering a concern from auditors.

The village hired an engineer to examine the utility and received a recommendation of a 9% to 14% rate increase.

Those larger increases didn’t fly with the committee. It settled on 3%, which met the sewer utility’s expenses.

Trustees weren’t happy about raising the rate.

“The No. 1 complaint about living in this village is the water rate,” Josh Borden said.

Village sewer and water charges are combined into one bill.

 

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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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