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Thursday

July 2014

31

Butler joins other suburbs in study of water rates

Butler — Joining a growing list of nearly a dozen communities, Butler officials last week voted to seek outside expertise in assessing looming water rate increases.

Butler is a so-called wholesale customer of Milwaukee Water Works, the water utility serving Milwaukee residents. Participating, and qualifying, suburban communities have the option of serving their residents with Milwaukee's water supply in exchange for payment.

While the Milwaukee Common Council ultimately has control over its water utility's rates, the common councils and village boards in suburban communities do not have the same level of authority.

Milwaukee Water Works' wholesale customers could be subject to a 35 percent rate hike, according to documents filed March 4 with the Public Service Commission. But leaders of many of the suburban communities served by Milwaukee Water Works have balked at what they see as a steep rate increase.

Last week, it was Butler's turn to have its say. The Village Board voted unanimously in favor of a resolution that joins a consortium of municipalities fighting the rate increase.

Butler is one of nine wholesale customer municipalities that have agreed to enlist the services of Short, Elliott, Hendrickson Inc. — a Milwaukee-based professional services company made up of engineers, architects, planners and scientists — to provide an analysis of the rate increase.

Depending upon the outcome, Short, Elliott, Hendrickson staff could give Butler and other participating municipalities the insight into seeking other outcomes to alleviate the concerns raised about the rate hike.

"We're all banding together to fight this," Butler Village President Richard Ensslin said June 3 before the full board took decisive action and agreed to hire the firm and move forward with the rate analysis.

The other eight wholesale customer municipalities already on board with the rate analysis are the cities of Mequon, New Berlin, Wauwatosa and West Allis and the villages of Brown Deer, Greendale, Menomonee Falls and Shorewood.

A person answering a call at Milwaukee Water Works' offices directed a reporter to the utility's website, milwaukee.gov/water, which included information on the pending water rate increases.

According to a statement on the site, utility officials point to several reasons for the rate increases, including an overall reduction in water usage — a statistic pointing to Milwaukee and suburban residents alike.

"Water sales continue to decline," the statement reads. "A rate adjustment will provide revenue to maintain service and reliability of water service. Water rates, not property taxes, pay for water treatment and service."

The utility also touts its comparatively low rates when similar communities and geographic areas enter into the equation.

"We continue to make changes to operate as efficiently and low-cost as possible," the statement further reads. "In fact, Milwaukee's water rates are the eighth lowest among 30 cities nationwide."

If implemented, the 35 percent rate hike would impact municipalities differently, depending upon the population.

Based on a funding formula of all wholesale customers, Butler pays 1.52 percent of the wholesale suburbs' share of the pie. Some of the larger participants — including the cities of West Allis and Wauwatosa — are much larger and pay a far greater portion. West Allis contributes 24.17 percent, while Wauwatosa funds 22.02 percent.

If the full 35 percent rate hike does take hold, Butler as a whole would pay the utility an additional $3,339 annually.

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