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Port Washington


Tax rate climbs 6.1% in PW-S school budget PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 27 October 2010 18:26

But drop in district’s equalized valuation expected to hold increase on most residents’ bills to $40

Most Port Washington-Saukville School District residents will see their school taxes increase by at least $40, according to 2010-11 budget approved by the School Board Monday.

The $14.3 million levy represents an increase of $356,130 (2.6%) over last school year.

That will result in a 6.1% increase in the tax rate, which is $9.44 per $1,000 of equalized valuation. Last school year’s rate of $8.90 was 54 cents less.

But the impact of the rate increase will be mitigated by a decrease in the equalized value of all property in the district.

For instance, if the values of homes in the district remained the same as last year, the owner of a $175,000 house would pay $94 more in school taxes under the new tax rate.

But property values in the district decreased by 3.3%. The impact the school tax rate will have on individual property owners depends on how much the value of property in their city, village or town decreased in relation to the district average.

Property values in the small portion of the Town of Grafton that is in the district decreased by only .2%, which means that these property owners will see the largest school tax increase — $91 for a $175,000 home.

But Town of Saukville residents living in the School District will see their school tax bills decrease by nearly $49, presuming they own homes valued at $175,000, because they experienced the largest decrease in equalized value — more than 8.6%.

Other communities in the district, their decrease in value and the estimated tax increase on a $175,000 home as calculated by school officials are:

• City of Port Washington, -3.27%, $40.

• Village of Saukville, -2.49, $53.

•  Town of Port Washington, -4.65%, $17.

The School District, which is taxing the full amount allowed under its levy limit, was able to balance this year’s budget without eliminating educational programs, laying off teachers or increasing class sizes beyond internal standards.

In addition, the district did not use reserve funds to balance the budget.

The largest expenditure, which totals $29.7 million, is wages and benefits, which will cost $21.7 million this school year.

Among the key factors influencing the budget is the increase in per-pupil state aid, which is frozen at last year’s amount of $200 per student, and a slight increase in enrollment.

 
Council says yes to 3% water rate hike PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 20 October 2010 19:50

Port aldermen OK increase despite voicing concern about impact on residents, businesses

Port Washington water rates will go up 3% on Jan. 1, the Common Council unanimously agreed Tuesday.

Aldermen, who two weeks ago tabled action on the increase after concerns were expressed about its effect on residents and businesses in the city, said the rate hike is needed.

The small increase is preferable to waiting several years and then imposing a much larger rate hike on water users, aldermen said.

“I had a lot of complaints when this came up, people saying ‘You shouldn’t be doing this to me,’” Ald. Jim Vollmar said. “It’s very personal when people are having difficulties.”

The utility needs to continue to seek efficiencies and additional customers to help bring down the water rates, he said.

Ald. Paul Neumyer said he spoke to a number of his constituents, particularly senior citizens, and they were of a like mind.

“They don’t like the idea of an increase,” he said, but they prefer the small increase to a large one.

There are two main reasons for the proposed increases, officials said. Although revenue is decreasing, costs continue to climb. The utility’s customers are also using less water, and the number of major industrial users is declining.

The rate hike is expected to increase the water utility’s revenue by $77,000, said Ald. Tom Hudson, chairman of the Finance and License Committee.

Even with the additional revenue, the water department will run a deficit next year of about $108,000, he said.

That increase would allow the utility to build its reserve fund and save for future projects, Hudson said. That would help the city avoid borrowing for future water projects, eliminating interest charges that are passed onto customers.

Communities are allowed by the Public Service Commission to impose an across-the-board 3% rate increase without a formal hearing and case study, a process that would cost the city considerably more money to prepare, Hudson noted.

Although some aldermen had suggested the city impose a smaller rate hike, that is not allowed under the simplified process, he added.

With the rate increase, the average residential customer is expected to see his bimonthly bill increase about $1.95, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

The average bimonthly water bill — which includes charges for both the water and wastewater utilities — is about $120, Grams said. About $70 of that amount is for water.

Several aldermen expressed concern about how the increase would affect businesses such as Kleen Test Products when the rate hike was proposed two weeks ago, suggesting that the city consider a smaller
increase for business users.

Water Supr. Dave Ewig said he and several other officials visited Kleen Test officials, who indicated the increase is not a major concern for the company.

Kleen Test Products, the city’s second largest water user, is expected to pay $59,900 for water this year, Ewig said.

We Energies is by far the city’s largest water user, using 20% to 30% of the 1.3 million gallons pumped each day, he said. The utility is expected to pay $280,000 for water this year.

The Port Washington-Saukville School District is the third-highest user and will pay an estimated $48,500 for water in 2010.

 
Judge to appoint receiver for bank building PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 13 October 2010 17:54

Court-ordered manager will oversee repairs of downtown Port structure left in disrepair by investment company

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram was expected to appoint a receiver Wednesday afternoon to handle work on the former M&I Bank building in downtown Port Washington landmark.

“Hopefully we can move forward after this and get the building fixed,” Mayor Scott Huebner said Tuesday. “I wish we could have had this done a long time ago.”

Wednesday’s court hearing was sought by the City of Port Washington after Port Harbor Investments LLC failed to repair the dilapidated building at 122 N. Franklin St. by a Sept. 23 deadline set by Wolfgram.

The city filed a civil suit against the company last year after repeated attempts to get the firm to fix the building’s partially demolished facade failed.

Before filing the suit, the city spent more than a year trying to get Port Harbor Investments to do the work, first using pressure, then orders from its building inspector and later through the lawsuit.

In May, the company and the city signed a stipulation and order aimed at getting the building repaired and ending the lawsuit. That agreement, which was approved by Wolfgram, called for the building to be fixed by July 16.

“They’ve given us no indication they’re ever going to do anything,” said Huebner, noting the city has given Port Harbor Investments numerous opportunities to fix the building. “They’ve talked for years and nothing’s been done.

“I just want to move forward. Hopefully, the judge will appoint a receiver who will make the improvements that need to be done to the building.”

There have been a number of people interested in the building in the past, Huebner said.

“Hopefully, there are still some interested parties and we can get a viable business in there,” he said.

Port Harbor Investments burst onto the scene in late 2007 when it purchased the former bank and announced sweeping plans for a multi-million-dollar development that was to encompass not only that building but several other prominent downtown buildings.

The firm planned to raze the former bank and construct a new structure that featured some of the architectural elements of the existing building.

However, the firm has been unable to complete any of its other planned real-estate purchases and early renovation attempts left the bank building dilapidated.

After numerous complaints from downtown businesses and residents, officials called for the building to be repaired, saying the structure had become an eyesore and safety hazard.

The building was in such bad shape last summer that the city was forced to make some exterior repairs after pieces of mortar, brick and other debris began falling from the structure. The firm had been ordered to
make these emergency repairs but failed to do so.

 
City puts 3% water rate hike on hold PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 06 October 2010 18:54

Port aldermen agree to table proposed increase after voicing concern about impact on homeowners, businesses

Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday tabled action on a proposed 3% water rate hike for next year, saying the tough economic times may require the city to hold off on the planned increase.

“I think it sends a good message to businesses and homeowners — we want to help,” Ald. Dan Becker said. “I think we should hold the line right now.”

Ald. Paul Neumyer said he is worried about the effect of the increase on senior citizens and those living on fixed incomes, noting he had received several calls from worried residents about the issue.

“If we end up raising taxes as well as raising the water rate, a lot of people are going to be really upset,” he said, suggesting the city delay action on the rate increase until the 2011 budget is better defined. “A lot of people are on the margin.”

The 2011 city budget, which is being reviewed by officials, tentatively calls for a 1.6% increase in the tax levy and a 1.3% increase in the tax rate, or 8 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, City Administrator Mark Grams said. 

The proposed increase in the rate would have cost residents an estimated $1 a month and brought in about $75,000 in additional revenue next year.

That increase would allow the utility to build up its reserve fund and save for future projects, officials said. That would help the city avoid borrowing for future water projects, eliminating interest charges that are passed onto customers.

“I think we have to do what’s responsible,” Ald. Tom Hudson, chairman of the Finance and License Committee, said. “You have to look at the reality and bite the bullet.”

Because the proposed increase is not in the fixed rate paid by consumers but in the volume rate, residents can reduce the impact of the rate hike by conserving water, Ald. Burt Babcock noted.

Ald. Jim Vollmar said this creates a Catch 22 situation because the more people conserve, the less revenue the utility receives and the greater the need for a rate increase.

But Becker expressed concern about the impact of the rate increase on businesses.

“It’s a competitive world out there,” he said. “Is it worth increasing your rates if you’re going to lose these major businesses? We’ve got to consider that.”

Mayor Scott Huebner said that when the city last increased its rates, Kleen Test Products, the utility’s second largest water user, moved part of its operations to Milwaukee, where water and
sewer rates are less expensive, and decided against moving ahead with expansion plans in Port Washington.

“That last increase hit them hard,” Huebner said.

Water Supt. Dave Ewig said that Kleen Test used $79,400 worth of water in 2009 and this year is expected to use $59,900 in water.

Ald. Dave Larson suggested that if the city held the line on water rates, it could use this fact as a way to try and attract business to the community

“What a great story it would be if we held the line,” he said.

The proposed rate increase is the first since 2008, when rates went up 10.5%, Ewig said.

Hudson noted that at that time, officials agreed to seek more frequent but smaller rate increases to avoid “real sticker shock.”

Ald. Mike Ehrlich said he had received several calls from constituents saying they did not want to see those large increases.

By adopting the smaller rate increase, the city can avoid preparing a costly rate case for the Public Service Commission, officials said. This year, the state allows water utilities to increase rates by as much as 3% without such a rate case and hearing.

There are two main reasons for the proposed increases, officials said. Although revenue is decreasing, costs continue to climb. The utility’s customers are also using less water, and the number of major industrial users is declining.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to save money,” Ewig said. But, he added, over the last 25 years the amount of water main in the city has increased from 38 miles to 59 miles while the number of employees has remained the same.

But Huebner noted that the city has turned its back on some ways to increase revenues. For example, he said, several years ago officials opted not to sell unused land on Jackson Street owned by the water department and instead turned it into a park. And when the city could have reduced the department staff by one person, it failed to do so.

“At some point, we have to stop raising our rates,” he said. “We can’t afford to keep having parks. We can’t afford to keep hiring people.”

While some aldermen suggested delaying the increase, others said it would only be postponing the inevitable. In the future, they said, the city’s budget is likely to be even tighter as the state reduces shared revenue payments to municipalities as it attempts to deal with its own revenue problems.

Vollmar suggested the city look at other ways to bring in revenue, such as special assessing residents for road repairs and water main repairs done in front of their residences. Currently, developers pay the initial cost of installing utilities and roads and the city picks up the cost of repairs.

“We have to think outside the box,” he said.

Aldermen questioned whether the city could approve a smaller rate hike for next year or if it could reduce or eliminate the increase for industry. Ewig said he would research the questions before the Common Council’s Oct. 19 meeting.

 
Port residents face 3% hike for sewer, water PDF Print E-mail
Community
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 29 September 2010 18:46

City officials say utility rate increases are needed in 2011 to offset decline in use, cover rising costs

Port Washington residents will see their sewer and water bills increase 3% next year under the proposed 2011 utility budgets.

If approved, the increase would add $3.60 to the bimonthly bill of homeowners whose current sewer and water charge is $120, officials said.

The increases, which would be the first since 2008, are reflected in the proposed 2011 budgets for the water and sewer departments, officials told the Board of Public Works Tuesday.

For the water department, the proposed increase would bring in about $75,000 in additional revenue next year, Water Supt. Dave Ewig said.

The proposed sewer rate increase would result in about $47,000 more revenue for the wastewater department, Wastewater Supt. Dan Buehler said.

There are two main reasons for the proposed increases, the department heads said — people are using less water while costs are increasing, and the amount of industry in the city is decreasing.

“A lot of people are conserving water these days,” Buehler said. “We continue to see a drop in our revenue, but the vast majority of our costs are fixed.”

If residents were using the same amount of water they used in 2005 or 2006, he noted, “There would not need to be a rate increase this year.”   

Ewig concurred, noting that residents are using about the same amount of water they did a decade ago.

Although revenue is decreasing, he said, costs continue to climb. Electricity is expected to increase about 5% next year, he noted, and the cost of the chemicals used in treating the water also continues to increase.

The number of major businesses using water is also decreasing significantly. When Simplicity closed its doors, Buehler said, the wastewater utility lost about $100,000 in annual revenue.

The water department lost about $60,000, Ewig estimated.

“We’re fortunate we have revenue from the power plant,” he noted, adding that because the water used by the utility is discharged into Lake Michigan, there is little impact on the wastewater department.

“Our costs are spread across a relatively small base,” Ewig said. “We need more customers.”

The only good thing about people conserving water is that it will delay any future expansion of the plant, Buehler added.

Ewig noted that Port Washington isn’t the only community being hurt by the conservation movement and loss of industry. Saukville recently received approval for a 22% water rate hike, he said, and the cities of Milwaukee and South Milwaukee are both seeking double-digit increases.

“It’s really a statewide issue,” he said.

Another factor in the proposed rate increase is the lack of interest income, Buehler said. In 2008, he said, the wastewater utility received about $50,000 in interest. Next year, it will receive an estimated $8,000.

The departments also need to build up their reserve accounts, the superintendents said. Ewig said his department’s reserve account is about $1.4 million, but with bills for the Division, Wisconsin and Chestnut street projects outstanding. The Public Service Commission recommends a $1.5 to $2 million reserve fund, he said.

Buehler said his reserve fund is at about $1 million, but he would like to see it increase to at least $1.2 million as recommended by the Department of Natural Resources.

To help increase the reserve fund, Ewig recommended that after the Highway 33 reconstruction is completed in the coming year, the city focus on fixing roads that won’t require utility work for the next several years.

“We’ve taken on some very large projects in the last couple of years,” he said.

Because the proposed 3% water rate increase falls within parameters set by the PSC, the city will be able to approve the hike without going through a longer, more complicated hearing process, Ewig said.

In the past, the water department has put off asking for increases for longer periods, but the rate hikes have been significantly larger and required the more complicated process, he said.

“We were told by the Common Council (in 2008) that in the future they wanted us to come in more often with these smaller requests,” Ewig said. “They did not want those double-digit increases.”

The Common Council is expected to consider the water department request when it meets Tuesday, Oct. 5. It will then go to the PSC for final approval.

The sewer rate increase does not require PSC approval. It will be approved as part of the 2011 budget, City Administrator Mark Grams said.

 
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