City wants to change ‘unfair’ wastewater rate complaint process 
Contracts with Milwaukee sewerage district, which receives deference in rate disagreements 


By HANNAH WEIKEL - Freeman Staff

Feb. 17, 2018

NEW BERLIN — When Mayor Dave Ament sat before a state legislative committee earlier this month, he said a complaint process skewed against New Berlin and other communities makes it nearly impossible to overturn Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District rate increases.

New Berlin is among 10 communities that contract with MMSD for sewerage services. Sewer rates in those communities are set by MMSD, and if the rates imposed are too high, community leaders have the option to use an appeals process through the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

However, state statute says when the PSC investigates a complaint regarding MMSD rules, rates or practices, it must give deference

to MMSD or any other service commission, and assume the rates are reasonable.

“This unique presumption of reasonableness greatly tilts the scale toward MMSD when attempting to resolve complaints,” Ament said.

A proposed bill working its way through the Wisconsin Senate seeks to “even the playing field” for MMSD contract communities, said bill sponsor Sen. Dave Craig, RTown of Vernon. The legislation would eliminate from state law the deference given to MMSD during PSC investiga tions. The bill would also stop MMSD from disconnecting services to a contract community without prior approval from the PSC.

“This bill is really just about fairness. There are 10 contract communities that contract with Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, but they are not part of the district so they have a limited voice on decisions made,” said state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, who sponsored a companion bill in the Assembly. “All this does is make the playing field even, so that when a contract community has an issue that they can go to the PSC and it starts with an unbiased, level playing field.”

Sewer utilities aren’t required to go through a standard rate case process with the PSC when raising costs, so large sewer utilities like MMSD can raise rates as they see fit and contract communities don’t have a say until afterward, through the appeals process.

The legislation, SB 697, was passed 3 to 2 by the Senate Committee on Elections and Utilities on Feb. 1. A companion bill passed the Assembly floor unanimously last month by a voice vote. Craig said he expects the legislation to be signed into law this session.

The bill had started as four pages that called for more extensive changes in the complaint process,

but MMSD took issue with it, Craig said. The abridged bill is a compromise and MMSD has come out as neutral on it.

MMSD did not respond to a request for comment by press time Friday.

“In any other proceeding in court there’s no presumption, you know, guilty versus innocent,” Craig said. “So there should be no presumption of correctness (in PSC investigations.) The PSC should look at all information and make a fair judgment based on what’s before them.”

Currently, about twothirds of New Berlin is served by MMSD, and as the city establishes its budget for all sewer utility customers throughout the city, the local rates are driven by charges imposed by MMSD, Ament said at the committee hearing.

New Berlin hasn’t appealed a rate increase yet, but it seems that may be on the horizon if the bill is passed.

“Issues have been brewing between New Berlin and MMSD about this and other concerns. It’s been on a slow boil,” Craig said. “I think it’s clear they think they haven’t been treated fairly and when we started looking at this, it was pretty clear that the statute doesn’t treat them fairly.”

Ament wasn’t available for comment on Thursday or Friday.

hweikel@conleynet.com 262-513-2651

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