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Water rates in Menomonee Falls could spike as much as 9 percent

Aug. 19, 2014

Menomonee Falls — The fight to keep water rates down continues in Menomonee Falls.

Milwaukee Water Works has dropped the proposed 28.7 percent increase to the village of Menomonee Falls slightly to 26.6 percent, but that is not enough of a decrease to save the average homeowner in the village from a water bill spike of as much as 9 percent.

On Aug. 18, Director of Utilities Jeff Nettesheim updated the board on the status of the proposed increase, which is currently in the final stages of review by the Public Service Commission.

Menomonee Falls is one of nine suburbs that have joined together to fight the proposed increases. These communities pipe in water from Milwaukee Water Works, a utility owned by the city of Milwaukee.

A consultant team has been testifying on the village's behalf to the PSC, which is expected to make a decision by mid-September.

As it stands, the increase would affect all water utility customers, including the 87 percent of homeowners who have water sourced from Lake Michigan and 13 percent of the village west of the subcontinental divide that is serviced by wells. The exact figures will not be known until the Public Service Commission approves it. The PSC does not have oversight of sewer rates.

It is the second time in recent years the village was faced with the potential for an increase of this size. In 2010, a proposed 36 percent hike was reduced to 8.2 percent through negotiations with the PSC.

A decrease of that size is not anticipated this time around, as Nettesheim explained the PSC staff is almost entirely new since last time.

While Nettesheim said the PSC staff seems more accepting of Milwaukee's arguments, village staff takes issue with the differential rate of return, the change of customer demand factors and the cost data, calling these arguments unreasonable, flawed and incomplete.

Based on the average household size of 2.5 people in Menomonee Falls, Nettesheim estimated the average water bill at about $232 a quarter, or just shy of $930 a year. The bill is broken down between a sewer charge of about $158, a meter charge of about $11 and a flow charge of $63. The flow charge is what would be susceptible to the increase, Nettesheim said. Using the estimate of a 9-percent increase, the change could amount to a $5.67 additional charge per quarter, or about $23 a year.

If approved at 26.6 percent, Village Attorney Michael Morse said there is a potential for the village to challenge the decision of the PSC in circuit court either as an individual community or with one or more of the other communities facing high increases.

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