Water Industry News

Water rates may jump 80% in Wisconsin town

By Patricia Wolff

COLOMA Ė Village residents wishing to be heard on a proposed 80 percent water rate increase need not go all the way to Madison.

Instead, they can head to the Community Center in downtown Coloma where a telephone connection will be established with a the Public Service Commission for a 9 a.m. public hearing on Thursday, March 31.

"(The Village Board) set that up after the pressure was on them. Why couldnít they just be open instead of sneaking around corners?" said Leo Jancila.

Jancila opposes the rate increase, but he opposes even more the way the board went about making its application to the PSC, he said.

"They applied for the rate increase in December of 2004, but they never brought it up at an open meeting. Everything was more or less hushed up," Jancila said.

Village officials say they followed the proper procedures for the rate increase. They donít have much say in the size of the increase, either.

"It was demanded by the Public Service Commission," said Village President Arden Bandt.

The board asked for a smaller increase but the PSC determined the village needed to increase water rates approximately 80 percent, Bandt said.

"Weíve been running in the red the last couple years. We have a lot of old pipes in town and weíre starting to have a lot of breakage and leaks. We have a leak now and donít know where it is," Bandt said.

The board did not want such a large increase, especially after village residents experienced a significant sewer rate increase last summer.

The average sewer userís bill last year went from $38 to $85 per quarter. Now, if the water rate increase is approved, the typical water customer who uses 14,000 gallons will see his or her water bill go from $21.24 to $40.15 per quarter, said Public Works Director Chuck Johnson.

That means the typical customer who paid $59 for sewer and water last year can anticipate of bill of $125 if the new water rate is approved.

Pat Arnold is disgusted at the thought.

"What do they want, blood?" Arnold said. "They just raised the sewer bills. I donít know how people on fixed incomes are going to make it. Itís a struggle."

Nina Lee, too, wonders how people living in one of the most impoverished areas of the state can handle the increase.

Thomas McDonald, a utility rate analyst for the PSC, said the last time the village had a water rate increase was 1992. The rate increase being proposed for Coloma is not out of line, he said,

"Percentage-wise it may seem like a lot, but dollar-wise it isnít. We look at that as in the ball park," McDonald said.

An average rate for water is from $45 to $70 per quarter, McDonald said.

"Weíre really not gouging the people. Weíre just trying to get them up to the times," Johnson said.

Patricia Wolff: (920) 361-0770 or pwolff@thenorthwestern.com