Public Works Board reviews costs, rates
New London staff prepares for rate study
By Robert Cloud
Water and sewer rates in New London are under review.
The New London Public Works Board moved forward on a planned rates study at a special meeting on June 21.
Ben Greuel, chief operator at the waste water treatment facility, presented costs and options that he, Finance Director Judy Radtke, City Administrator Chad Hoerth and Director of Public Services Robert Garske put together for the board to review.
Greuel said the June 21 meeting would focus on the expenditure side of the Public Works budget.
Among the future expenses is a rebuilding of the wastewater treatment plant.
The state Department of Natural Resources has tightened its regulations on the amount of phosphorous that a sewage plant may release.
“We’re going to have a seven-year compliance schedule which outlines how the city will meet the lowered phosphorous limits, along with minimization of other nutrients and contaminants,” Greuel said. “We need to do that by April 2029.”
Greuel said the problem is that some of the facility’s treatment processes are outdated and some of its equipment is inefficient.
“It was built in 1987, when a lot of this stuff they’re imposing on us wasn’t even dreamed about,” he said.
Greuel noted that the facility is coping with large amounts of clear water infiltration due to illegally connected sump pumps and leaking water laterals throughout the city.
“Hopefully, a lot of that will go away when the city does street upgrades in the future,” Greuel said.
He presented an estimate for proposed engineering fees from McMahon, a civil engineering firm, that totalled $99,500 from 2023-26.
Greuel also presented an estimate from Donahue, a engineering firm that specializes in wastewater treatment facilities.
A major overhaul of the facility could cost more than $24 million.
Personnel issues, pay
Greuel said another big issue for the wastewater treatment facility is attracting and recruiting employees.
“Since 2017, we’ve gone back to a three-person crew and we have not been able to maintain three employees,” Greuel said. “Basically, we’re becoming a training facility for students from UW-Stevens Point and Fox Valley Tech.”
Greuel said when one of the three-person crew leaves, it creates a hardship for the two remaining employees at the facility.
They are forced to work overtime and do not have time to keep up with maintenance.
“If someone has vacation time or a parent gets sick, that leaves just one person to run the whole facility,” Greuel said.
The most effective way to recruit and train employees is to increase wages, Greuel said.
He compared salaries of advanced operators and superintendents at plants in New London, Waupaca and Clintonville.
Greuel said advanced operators in New London make $24.92 per hour, while they make $26.03 in Waupaca and $28.95 in Clintonville.
Wastewater facility superintendents are paid $28.19 per hour in New London, $30.99 in Waupaca and $32.34 in Clintonville, according to Greuel’s figures.
Greuel recommended increasing the staff to four people and increasing their wages.
He said having a four-person crew would decrease overtime.
The city budgeted $164,560 for three wastewater treatment facility employees in 2022.
If raises are implemented for three employees, that expenditure would increase to $194,574 in 2023, $200,411 in 2024 and $206,423 in 2025.
If facility staff is increase to four people, then the cost for labor would rise to $254,915 in 2023, $262,502 in 2024 and $270,439 in 2025.
The board also compared the sewer rates of New London, Waupaca and Clintonville.
With the lowest fixed rate among the three cities, New London charges $6 regardless of meter size.
Clintonville charges a $7.25 fixed rate, while Waupaca’s fixed rate varies with the size of the meter.
Waupaca charges $24.21 for a 5/8-inch meter, $60.54 for a 1-inch meter and $1,211.11 for a 6-inch meter.
Fixed rates are the same every month, while variable sewer rates depend on monthly water usage. More water from the tap means more water down the drain going into the sewage system.
Waupaca, with the highest fixed rate, charges the lowest variable rate at $3.69 per 1,000 gallons.
New London charges $9.36 per 1,000 gallons and Clintonville charges $17 per 1,000 gallons.
The rate study will look at a number of options such as labor costs, revenues from fixed and variable rates and capital expenditures over a three-year period.
Radtke said the numbers the board discussed on June 21 are only estimates that will be provided to the auditors for the rates study.