Resolution to block water rate hike fails, yet WE Energies resolution is approved

At last night’s Common Council meeting, a resolution sponsored by Alderperson Kevin Mathewson urging the Kenosha Water Utility’s Board of Water Commissioners to refrain from a rate increase for 2013 failed.  The vote was 2 to 12.  The two voting for it were Mathewson and Alderperson David Bogdala.  Two alderpersons abstained from the vote; they were Alderpersons G. John Ruffolo and Steve Bostrom (both members of the Board of Water Commissioners).

Mathewson said that he met with Ed St. Peter, the general manager of Kenosha’s water utility, who told him that the reason for the increase was to expand and enhance the infrastructure, the underground pipes. Mathewson said that he “thought this was a good idea, just the wrong time.”  Mathewson said that, in his meeting with St. Peter, that he was led to believe that the water rate increase was not essential to provide the same service.

St. Peter disagreed with Mathewson’s take on their meeting, and he gave a passionate speech about the need for the rate increase.  The last rate increase was in 2004.  Last July, he proposed to the Water Commission an increase in both water and sewer rates, and the commission approved the water rate increase, but not the sewer rate increase.  To read a prior article on this subject, click here:  Water Commission Approves Application for Rate Hike.  The same reasons that were cited in that article were reiterated by St. Peter again last night.  He also distributed a two-page summary to the council members and the mayor.

St. Peter talked about painting water tanks.  Kenosha has 12 tanks, and the cycle is 12 years.  This means that one tank should be painted every 12 years.  On average, it costs $350,000 to paint a tank.  They painted one tank in the last seven years.  This painting is not for aesthetic reasons; it is corrosion maintenance to prevent rust build-up.  St. Peter said that there was no money in the budget to paint the tanks.

“In some years,” St. Peter said, “we have 200 water main breaks.  It costs $1 million a mile to replace a water main.”  He said that we should have had an increase in 2008.  This rate  increase will give the water utility approximately $1 million a year in additional revenue to perform the needed work of tank painting and replacement of underground water pipes.

St. Peter called on his 41 years of experience with the water utility.  “Trust my judgment and experience.  We need this water rate increase,” he said.  “We have the lowest costs at the water treatment plant, and we have the highest quality water.  We have no place left to cut.  There are at least eight districts that need water main replacements.  It’s a hugely complicated task,” said St. Peter.

The agenda item before this one was a resolution sponsored by Alderperson Daniel Prozanski and co-sponsored by several other alderpersons regarding registering the Common Council’s objection regarding WE Energies rate increases to the Public Service Commission.  The other co-sponsors were Alderpersons Tod Ohnstad, Rocco LaMacchia, Scott Gordon, Keith Rosenberg, Chris Schwartz, Michael Orth, Curt Wilson, Jan Michalski, and Patrick Juliana.

WE Energies is calling for a 5% rate increase in 2013, and a 3.6% increase in 2014 due to cost overruns at their Oak Creek plant.  They are passing the cost overruns on to the consumers.

The difference between this resolution (the water rate increase) and WE Energies’ rate increase is that WE Energies is a corporation, a for-profit entity.  Prozanski said, “Unlike the resolution before it, we have an expert here with 41 years of experience.  You can hear the passion in his voice.  This is his life.  Spending ten minutes talking to this man, you hear the pride in his voice.  We’ve gotta do this.  It’s time. We’re paying for somebody’s mis-management with the resolution before this one.”

The resolution to register the Council’s objection with the proposed rate increase by WE Energies was approved unanimously, 15 to 0.  Alderperson Jesse Downing was not present at the meeting last night.

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