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Wauwatosa to challenge hike in water rates proposed by Milwaukee

May 28, 2014

Reacting to Milwaukee Water Works' proposal to increase Wauwatosa's water rate by about 34 percent, Wauwatosa officials are teaming up with neighboring communities to challenge the hike.

Wauwatosa started buying water from MWW in 1963, and now MWW water comprises about 30 percent of the city's water utility expenses.

The Wauwatosa Budget and Finance Committee voted Tuesday, May 27, to hire an analyst, Short Elliot Hendrickson Inc., to represent the city and eight other municipalities that are also pitching in. The analyst will contest MWW's request before the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, an independent regulatory agency that has to approve changes to utility rates.

Depending on what strategy the group decides to take, the analyst could cost the city between $13,000 and $35,000. Wauwatosa Water Superintendent James Wojcehowicz said he expected the process would save the city at least enough money to recoup the cost.

Wauwatosa currently pays an annual rate of about $2.03 million for water from MWW, and the 2014 budget is based on an estimated payment of $2.27 million. Under MWW's proposal, Wauwatosa would pay about $2.72 million.

"We're hiring the analyst to ensure the rate increase is just and fair," said John Ruggini, Wauwatosa finance director. "Milwaukee Water Works is facing many challenges with aging infrastructure. It's not unanticipated they're raising the rates; we want to make sure those rates are raised for the right reasons."

Other communities planning to participate are West Allis, Shorewood, Menomonee Falls, Greendale, Brown Deer, Mequon, New Berlin and Butler.

The last time MWW filed a request with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to increase its rates in such a way (with a conventional rate case application) was in 2009. At that time, Wauwatosa hired the same analyst with the same eight other suburbs, plus Milwaukee County. As a result of the challenge, Wojcehowicz said the analyst got $400,000 knocked off of the city's rate, which ended up giving the city a decreased rate from the previous year.

Wojcehowicz said he does not believe rates will ever decrease again, but he does expect to reduce the proposed hike.

In addition to the 34 percent increase, MWW requested a 3 percent rate hike described as similar to a cost-of-living increase. The budget and finance committee voted to pass that cost along to residents. That increase, coming out to about 80 cents for the average residence, will show up on bills in August if also approved by the common council and public service commission.

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