Amid criticism of NEW Water, Suamico approves sewer rate increase
By Kevin Boneske
SUAMICO – After village board members expressed displeasure over rising sewer costs for Suamico, they voted 5-2 Monday, Dec. 7, to approve a 3.5 percent increase (31 cents) in the sewer utility rate per 1,000 gallons, effective Dec. 16.
Village President Laura Nelson and Trustee Michelle Eckert voted against the resolution, which sets the rate at $9.21 per 1,000 gallons of sewage usage for metered, residential customers.
“This rate hike is unconscionable,” Nelson said. “It’s massive.”
The quarterly fixed charge for debt service for residential sewer customers is remaining at $44.34.
Finance Director Jessica Legois said the sewer utility’s total operating expenses are increasing by 6 percent.
NEW Water presentation
Prior to the board’s vote, the bulk of the meeting involved a remote presentation by NEW Water, which next year will increase its budgeted sewer charges to Suamico by about 14 percent ($121,929) to $992,265.
NEW Water Executive Director Tom Sigmund said 85 percent ($103,628) of that increase is attributable to more sewer flow and load from the village anticipated for treatment, with the other 15 percent ($18,301) related to increased rates.
Sigmund said the village’s sewer flow for next year is projected at more than 260 million gallons.
He said annual rate increases typically are higher than inflation because the sewer service sector is capital intensive by nature.
NEW Water criticized
Following NEW Water’s presentation, Fred Krumberger, a member of Suamico’s Public Works and Utility Commission, appeared before the board and took exception with how NEW Water is being run with its passing on of higher sewer charges, which now account for more than 45 percent of the village’s sewer utility budget.
Krumberger said NEW Water, which he called a “government-run monopoly,” hasn’t been accountable to rate payers while doing functions that should be handled by other entities, and having annual rate increases from 2012 to 2021 averaging above the rate of inflation.
“The core business of NEW Water is to remove contaminants from sewage at the lowest cost to rate payers…,” he said. “There needs to be greater focus on productivity and expense control in the coming years. Many of the ancillary NEW Water activities are better performed by organizations that are accountable to voters. Rate payers should not be funding outreach, education or aquatic research.”
Compared to other communities in Brown County, Krumberger said “there are places growing a heck of a lot faster than we are that are not seeing anywhere near the rate increase we’re seeing.”
Board members agreed Suamico faced too high sewer rate increases, because of what NEW Water charges the village, and they discussed what they might be able to do about that.
“There’s not a damn thing we can do about it,” Eckert said.
Trustee Sky Van Rossum said the village needs to start looking for solutions, because if sewer customers in Suamico had a choice, they wouldn’t use NEW Water.
“We can’t go on this way,” he said.
Trustee Dan Roddan said better representation of the communities and municipalities on NEW Water’s board, possibly expanding the number of board members, could help.
Nelson suggested getting state lawmakers involved to “break up some sort of monopoly.”
“We have no other options,” she said. “NEW Water is it.”
Village Administrator Alex Kaker said the village would continue the conversation with NEW Water related to the sewer charges Suamico faces.