Saturday, October 1st, 2016

CUB involvement in Waukesha water issue either ignorant or unethical

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The announcement by the Citizens Utility Board’s involvement in the Waukesha water rate hike issue is either from complete ignorance or an example of shameless opportunism.

Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak has said the Water Utility plans to raise water rates 25 percent per year for the next four or five years in part to help pay for the proposed Lake Michigan diversion. Pending approval from the PSC, the first increase could take effect in June.

The city is under a federally mandated 2018 deadline to implement a sustainable, radium-compliant water source, but it must go through a lengthy application process that includes approvals from the governors of every state that borders Lake Michigan before construction can begin.

“Our main concern is whether Waukesha should be able to raise its rates before it gets approvals to build this project,” Higley said. “The danger is if rates are increased and nothing happens; in other words, Waukesha is denied the ability to build this new project and yet people are paying for it. That possible outcome is not fair to the ratepayers.”

Duchniak said raising water rates in smaller increments right off the bat is the only way to avoid rate shock for citizens who will have to pay for a new water source either way.

“One thing we know is that Waukesha must obtain a new supply of water, and that any alternatives other than the Great Lakes option will be even more expensive,” Duchniak said. “Postponing a rate increase will cause more rate shock to the customers because it would be a larger percent increase in a shorter amount of time.”

Higley said CUB is a “full party” in Waukesha’s rate case before the PSC, meaning the organization will participate in the formal process by giving testimony, filing legal briefs and more.

Higley also said he hadn’t had contact with anyone at the Waukesha Water Utility directly, but he plans to closely follow the case.

If the CUB had bothered to contact the Waukesha Water Utility, or if CUB had attended any of the water utility’s presentations on the need for a pipeline to Lake Michigan, they would have learned that any alternative to Waukesha getting Lake Michigan water will be more expensive for ratepayers. Let me repeat that in case CUB is just slow on the uptake. If the city of Waukesha does not build a pipeline to Lake Michigan, Waukesha Water Utility customers will be paying even higher rates in the long term.

That means Waukesha ratepayers are going to be paying more either way. The Waukesha Water Utility can either ease their customers into the higher rates and use that money in the future for solving Waukesha’s radium problems, or they can just drop a rate bomb on ratepayers.

Either way, CUB is going to look stupid trying to argue that the utility does not need to charge higher rates. Unless, of course, they are just shamelessly pandering to those ratepayers that have not yet figured out that the city of Waukesha’s water costs are going up no matter what.

Speaking of shameless pandering,

Mayor Jeff Scrima had never heard of CUB, but he said the organization raises an interesting question.

“Should Waukesha be able to raise its rates before any approvals are given?” he asked.

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