Residents flushed over sewer rate hikes
City reiterates they’re necessary
By Scott Bellile
City of New London officials are defending a sewer rate increase that hasn’t gone over well with some citizens.
Customers received letters within their September utility bills stating the monthly rates were to go up Oct. 1. The rates were approved by the New London City Council in July.
In response to the news, Facebook users posted dozens of comments on the public group “You know you’re from New London if” expressing frustration.
Some said they’re fed up with the expenses they pay to live in town. Others snapped back that those who are upset should start going to city government meetings or move altogether.
This year’s rate increase is step one of a two-step increase.
The base monthly fixed charge for all users became $2.30, about triple the previous rate of 80 cents. The volume charge for metered users is now $7.19 per 1,000 gallons, a 23 percent increase from the previous $5.84 per 1,000 gallons.
When the step two increase takes place, Oct. 1, 2017, the base monthly fixed charge will jump to $3. The volume charge for metered users will go up to $9.40 per 1,000 gallons.
According to the letter residents received from New London Public Works Director Jeff Bodoh, the average household uses 3,000 gallons a month. The average home paid $18.32 per month before Oct. 1, will now pay $23.87 per month, and could expect to pay $31.20 per month after Oct. 1, 2017.
Officials: The right decision
City and elected officials remained convinced they made the right decision at an Oct. 3 New London Board of Public Works meeting.
“[Residents say] we pay the highest taxes of any city in the area or our sewer rates are the highest of any in the area. This is wrong,” New London Mayor Gary Henke said.
A number of Wisconsin communities have higher rates. Ben Greuel, New London Wastewater Treatment Facility chief operator, provided the board a list of other cities’ sewer rates found in the 2013 MSA Sewer User Charge Survey. Greuel acknowledged some rates were outdated.
Communities with higher rates that attendees at the board meeting singled out were: Clayton/Winchester ($6.50 monthly fixed fee/$15 monthly per 1,000 gallons), Winneconne ($7/$12.02), Marion ($5.50/$9), Shiocton ($3.75/$10.42) and Hortonville ($7.16 monthly fixed fee).
“I looked at some from the whole state and there’s a lot worse out there,” Greuel said.
Greuel said Facebook users have incorrectly cited the city’s water rates in their complaints about the sewer rate increases, so some of the numbers the public has seen are wrong.
Bodoh told the Board of Public Works the average household will pay $313 total for sewer services over the next 12 months.
Reason for the rate hike
According to Bodoh’s letter, “rate increases are never preferred” but the city’s reason for them is Saputo Cheese’s 2014 plant closure.
Saputo accounted for nearly 25 percent of New London’s treatment demand. Now with Saputo gone, the wastewater treatment facility must make up that revenue elsewhere to cover maintenance and upgrades or else risk further deterioration of its facility, Bodoh stated.
The wastewater treatment facility was built to handle the waste produced by Saputo and its predecessors, Greuel wrote in the list of rates by city given to the Board of Public Works.
Without Saputo’s activity, the wastewater treatment facility is now fit to treat a population of 45,000, he wrote. New London has about 7,300 citizens.
New London City Administrator Kent Hager recently informed city council members over email that rumors are circulating that Saputo Cheese left town because the city wouldn’t sell it additional land.
He said that’s untrue and that the city approached Saputo when Wolf River Lumber donated its 6-acre plot next door to the city. Saputo declined the offer, he said.
According to Saputo’s May 2014 letter to the city announcing the New London closure, the company shut down its plant because the facility was too old and too expensive to upgrade.
About 80 employees were laid off.