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OPINION - Water Works Blues

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) The Wausau Water Works is asking for another big rate hike. They've filed paperwork with the state's Public Service Commission to allow them to increase revenue by 32-percent. The last time the water works had a full rate review, the average water bill went up by 15-percent.

Wausau Water Works says the harsh winter is to blame. There were more than 30 water-main breaks from the extreme cold. That also led to an increase in overtime and in the chemicals used to treat the water that was leaking into the streets.

They should be turned down with a flat-out "no". The tone-deafness and the mismanagement at the water department is shocking.

To start, it's possible they simply don't listen to the news or have very poor communication with the Governor's office. That's the only explanation that they wouldn't know that Scott Walker applied for federal disaster aid to cover infrastructure damage from the winter. So they're asking for an increase before even knowing whether their costs will be covered by the feds. (Surely if their rate increase is approved, they won't be refunding the money if the disaster grant is approved.)

The department bragged that they're becoming more efficient. They now coordinate with the city on road projects: when a street is being re-paved, they take advantage of the ditch to put in new water lines. Wow! I know nothing about public utility projects, and I could have figured that one out myself. Instead of bragging about the obvious, let's have an accounting of how many newly paved streets were torn up a second time for water works projects before someone had this revalation.

Next, this rate increase is, in part, to cover local incompetence. Last winter there was a mystery water main break that, at first, wasn't noticed, and then took days to locate. No one's explained how something like that could happen. Certainly someone within the department would notice a dramatic increase in water flowing through the system. Locating and recognizing the problem should have taken hours, not days. It was eventually traced to a remote area, where water was literally free-flowing into a marshy ditch. What incentive do they have to act quickly when, ultimately, their costs will be absorbed by rate-payers?

Lastly, this is the same Water Works that requested a double-digit rate increase the last time... at the same time the department was sending their managers and the Mayor to the annual water works conference. What's our first clue that these conferences are more about fun than business? Several people, including the Mayor, brought their spouses along (paid for out of their own pockets). The Wausau Water Works should have zero travel expense. Assure the public that all the wasteful, unnecessary spending has been eliminated before fleecing us.

This is a department that needs to live within its means, instead of expecting the public to blindly accept double-digit increases every time they file a rate request.

Chris Conley

Image: brass water tap byAnita Martinz from Klagenfurt, Austria via WikiCommons.com