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Council agrees to increase Baraboo utility rates

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Water rates and fees for Baraboo residents have officially increased as of Thursday.

The Baraboo Common Council unanimously approved the new numbers after council member Jason Kent expressed that they had little choice in the face of recommendations from the state Public Service Commission.

Whooping crane chick Wampanoag with foster mother Achilles on June 20 at the International Crane Foundation's breeding facility. Wampanoag is the offspring of two cranes at Zoo New England’s Stone Zoo in Massachusetts. Footage provided by ICF.

“It sounds like the PSC determines this and we’re kind of bound to it,” Kent said. “I know, in doing some research, other communities have tried to fight this and the PSC in the past; bigger cities than Baraboo, without much success.”

An updated fee schedule dictates that homeowners will see their costs rise from $1.68 per 1,000 gallons of water to $3.11. Utility Superintendent Wade Peterson said the average home uses about 10,000 gallons of water per quarter. The bulk water fee applies to the first 37,500 gallons.

“The average homeowner’s yearly bill will go up by about $100,” Kent said. “The average commercial business, based on the numbers, is definitely going to go up about $600...if you want to know what that equates to, that $3.11, what that equates to is those numbers.”

The city filed an application for conventional water rate increases Aug. 25 after the loss of longtime user LSC Communications, a printer company headquartered in Chicago which filed for bankruptcy in April. City officials had talks with commissioners and the PSC issued a final decision May 12 with changes scheduled to go into effect June 24.

Spike in Baraboo water rates OK'd by PSC

Through the application process, the city asks the PSC to study its rate structure. The commission evaluates revenue and expenses. Baraboo has roughly 200 line-item expenses, Peterson said.

“With the loss of LSC Communications, we’ve had several conversations about the loss of revenue and water usage from that facility,” Peterson said. “They were about 50% of our daily flow and about 20% of our revenue.”

According to the application, the city sought a 53% rate increase.

Baraboo Water Utility seeks 53 percent rate increase

The annual revenue for the utility before the loss of the business was $1.48 million. The request for a change in rates was the first since 2012. Two times since then, the city received a simplified 3% inflationary increase, but this time the PSC required a full rate filing.

“In years past, we’d been able to negotiate and to help lighten the load on some of this,” Peterson said. “When we met with them this time, they were very rigid. There wasn’t much room for conversation of trying to make changes to the rate structures. We had some discussions and they pretty much said this is how we understand, this is how we feel we should move forward with this.”

The rate of return for the city is 4.9%, Peterson said.

Fee increases include hydrant service charges, reconnection charges and temporary meter services charges. There are also two new fees, one of $20 for new real estate hook up and missed appointment charges.

Reconnection fees will increase from $40 to $55 during business hours and from $60 to $85 after business hours.

“So besides them not being able to pay their bill, we were tacking on $40 to reconnect it, now that’s going to go to $55. It doesn’t make a lot of sense why we’re hitting them that much harder and I can tell you that it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s what the Public Service Commission says we’re going to charge them.”

LSC Communications announces nearly 400 layoffs at Baraboo facility

Peterson said the city is still in “good standing” for attracting companies which may use large quantities of water to the city, going from the second-lowest in its market to about “35 or 36 on the list.”

“We’re still going to be extremely competitive if there are companies that want to come to town and are significant water users,” Peterson said. “But by far this is going to be painful for our customers. When they see their first bills come Oct. 1, they’re going to be significant.”

Teel Plastics leases LSC Communications building in Baraboo

He said the biggest impact will be on homeowners. Numbers will vary depending on the user, with some quarterly bills going up about $10 to $12, while others will see an increase of $50. Businesses could see increases from $200 to $5,000.

“We have been blessed with LSC being part of our community for 35-plus years as far as our water rates,” Peterson said. “They theoretically subsidized everybody else’s water rates because of their use, so we were very fortunate. Unfortunately, now that has come to an end.”

Council members also:

  • Approved to have the city host virtual Power Hour seminars of the Grow Solar Sauk County Program in July, with Mayor Rob Nelson coordinating the promotion of the event and making an introduction
  • Approved a reserve capacity assessment fee from $450 to $650 for any new connection to the city water and sanitary sewer utility for the first time since 1991
  • Approved the Compliance Maintenance Annual Report, which assesses the condition of wastewater facilities and collections systems, required of the city by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • Approved the request by Wisconsin Power & Light Company for a 20-foot utility easement along the eastern extension of South Center Street, from the east line of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation railroad right-of-way to the west line of Briar Street, for underground gas main
  • Approved an amendment to the state and municipal financial agreement for a project along Wisconsin Highway 33 between Lincoln Avenue and the western city limits scheduled to begin in 2024

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.

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