City utility rates to increase Jan. 1
Council raises sewer, stormwater through 2029; PSC to determine water rates
By Eileen Persike | Editor
RHINELANDER – City of Rhinelander residents will be paying more for their water utilities starting Jan. 1. The Common Council voted Nov. 27 to increase rates for sewer and stormwater annually through 2029 and also approved the city’s application to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for an increase in water rates. Water is regulated by the state.
The council’s action followed a rate study and report by Ehlers, Inc., a public finance advisor, which showed the current rate schedules are insufficient to cover operations and maintenance, debt obligations and the cost of future utility projects.
Brian Roemer, who presented Ehlers’ rate study findings, told the council at the Nov. 13 meeting that utilities tend to have a capital-intensive nature that can come with a need to maintain ample cash to go along with debt when investing in assets.
“It costs a lot of money to get these assets in the ground and in the air,” Roemer said. “And it costs a lot of money annually to maintain those assets in order to provide safe drinking water and safe disposal of that water, as well as proper storm water management.
“Without [an increase] you will not be making debt coverage and also run the risk of running out of cash, all other things being equal … we definitely run some financial risks by not doing anything,” Roemer noted.
Wastewater, or sewer, rates will increase each year from the 2023 volume rate of $9 per 1,000 gallons quarterly to $13.21 per 1,000 gallons quarterly on Jan. 1, 2029. The sewer usage charge will also increase, from $52 per quarter for standard 5/8 inch pipe today, to $73.44 in 2029. Usage charges vary depending on the size pipe serving each location.
Alderman Steven Jopek said the rate increase isn’t something the council takes lightly, but is something that has to be done.
“I’m an advocate for good governance and sometimes good governance comes with tough pills to swallow,” Jopek said. “So these things are not exciting to vote on but it is necessary for our community to maintain itself and for us to be able to sustain the growth we currently have.”
Stormwater user charge, currently set at $12.75 per quarter, will increase annually to $20.74 per Equivalent Resident Unit (ERU) per quarter.
Alderman Tom Barnett voiced concern about the size of the increases, and said it was due to poor oversight.
“This should have been forecasted years out,” Barnett said. “It fell in our lap and I think this is a real shame that we have to go about this now. I think we need to hold management to a higher standard that requires better forecasting going forward.”
City Administrator Patrick Reagan told the council the industry standard has been to raise rates 2% to 4% every year to keep up with inflation, or keep up with rising costs.
“This isn’t fun, this isn’t pleasant, but unfortunately what you have to do,” he said.
Barnett also asked that the city website prominently feature links to programs that can assist residents who may have trouble paying their bill. Reagan said that has been done.