The Mequon Common Council has unanimously passed a resolution placing a water referendum on the September 9th primary ballot. The Referendum states:
"Shall the City of Mequon purchase the We Energies Water Utility for $14.4 million, subject to the following:
(a) no City property tax revenues shall be used to purchase, operate or improve the utility;
(b) currently existing homes and other buildings that are not connected to the utility shall never be required to connect to the utility; and
(c) no homeowner or other building owner or tenant shall be required to pay anything to the utility for their building at any time the building is not physically connected to the utility?"This is a win-win issue for all the residents of Mequon and the Referendum should be approved with a substantial majority. First, everyone has to understand that We-Energies wants out of the water utility business. Begun under the aegis of Wisconsin Gas, it became an orphan after their merger and it now no longer fits We-Energies’ long term strategy. They are no longer interested in growing the business or even operating it at maximum effectiveness. So now is the time for Mequon to purchase the utility and join other Ozaukee communities such as Port Washington and Cedarburg in operating its own water system.
There is no doubt that having a Mequon Water Utility benefits all residents whether customers or not. These benefits can be listed:1. Mequon is a more attractive community with its own water utility to complement its sewer utility – increasing property values for all.
2. The some 2300 Mequon utility customers using Lake Michigan Water have reduced the strain on the Lake Superior aquifer for residents who draw well water from this aquifer.3. The Water Utility has provided adequate water mains not only for water supply but for fire protection, complete with hydrants. This resulted in the insurance industry decreasing Mequon’s fire rating from a Class 9 to a Class 5 which reduced every property owner’s fire insurance premium.
4. All properties located within fire hose distance from a hydrant receive fire fighting water from the hydrant whether they are a utility customer or not– and non-customers will never be charged for this fire fighting advantage under the terms of the Referendum.5. All properties outside of a fire hose distance from a hydrant also benefit. Water to fight such property fires comes from the Fire Department’s water pumpers, which now re-fill from the hydrants instead of from local ponds. So such fire fighting is more effective and the water considerably cleaner.
6. Current non-utility customers will always have the option to hook up for water service if that becomes desirable.7. Current utility customers can expect a 27% decrease in their water bills, since much of the We-Energies Water Utility’s cost represents division and corporate overhead.
All of the above comes without a discernible down-side. The capital cost of the purchase will come from a bond issue which the water utility will repay in principal and interest over a 20 year period. No property tax revenue is at risk as all capital, operating and maintenance costs will come from utility customer billings under approved Public Service Commission rates. Property owners who are not customers of the Utility will never be at any financial risk under the terms of the Referendum.
Why would anyone vote against the Referendum with this win-win scenario? I suppose some might feel that they oppose the government running any utility service. That reason is easily rebutted by noting that most water utility customers in Wisconsin are served by a municipally operated utility. Milwaukee Water Works and the North Shore Water Utility are local prime examples, both of which will continue to supply Lake Michigan water to a Mequon Water Utility. Mequon has a proven record in operating its sewer utility and would plan to continue such superior service for a water utility.
So, as one, who in my capacity as a Mequon Alderman, made the initial contact with Wisconsin Gas that led to establishment of the We-Energies Water Utility, I enthusiastically support a "YES" vote on September 9th in favor of the Water Referendum. I hope you will join me.