Ellsworth water rate application will go to PSC

Public fire protection charge will move to water bills

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 4/10/24

Village of Ellsworth residents will be seeing an increase in their water bills, but the amount is not yet known due to multiple factors.

At the April 1 Ellsworth Village Board meeting, Brian …

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Ellsworth water rate application will go to PSC

Public fire protection charge will move to water bills


Village of Ellsworth residents will be seeing an increase in their water bills, but the amount is not yet known due to multiple factors.

At the April 1 Ellsworth Village Board meeting, Brian Roemer of Ehlers gave updated information regarding a Conventional Rate Case application with the Public Service Commission and spoke about those factors, which include the public fire protection charge, scale of the Grant and Piety Street reconstruction projects and possible use of special assessments for the projects.

The village water utility must get a rate adjustment in place in order to secure a Safe Drinking Water Loan from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for the Grant and Piety Street projects. In short, the village water utility is not taking in enough money to cover its expenses. Roemer said a minimum 25% revenue increase is needed, but Ehlers recommends a 45% increase in revenues to allow for flexibility in the event of an emergency, such as a water main break.

However, the PSC will ultimately determine the rate increase, which according to the numbers, would be about 65%. Ehlers works with the village and PSC to find a middle ground so the impact isn’t so high on customers.

“Tonight we’re looking for consensus on how to file the application,” Roemer said. “You need to decide whether or not to special assess.”

Currently, Ellsworth’s water rates are in the bottom third of the cheapest rates in the three-county area.

“An adjustment would put Ellsworth in the bottom of the top third if the PSC gets their way,” Roemer said. “We are hoping to land in the middle with the 45% adjustment.”

The water utility bills on a quarterly basis. For a regular 5/8-inch residential meter, the current average quarterly bill is roughly $50. A 65% increase to revenues would mean about a $31 change to that bill. If PSC got their way, it would mean a $125 increase per year for the average residential user. Ehlers is hoping to reduce that amount by convincing the PSC a 45% increase is sufficient.

Roemer spoke about Village of Star Prairie residents who helped the village and Ehlers fight their case with the PSC by writing letters about how such a high rate increase would impact their household budgets. He recommends Ellsworth residents do the same. The goal is to have the rate case settled by Sept. 1 in order to secure the loan.

Roemer recommended sending a notice to residents after the village files the rate case application so they don’t find out about it “in the 11th hour at the mandated public hearing. Getting the public involved has been helpful in arguing for lower rates of return with the PSC,” he said. The village can collect letters from the community and provide them to the rate case coordinator ahead of time.

As part of the discussion, the board unanimously voted to put the Public Fire Protection charge directly on residents’ water bills. Currently, the village levies this charge through tax collection. Changing how this charge is collected will actually save residents money, Roemer said.

“You are limited as to how much you can levy each year. This $213,000 expense will be taken off your general fund,” Roemer said.

The average annual cost for the PFP per taxable property is $153.53. Now the average cost, seen on water bills and not through taxes, will be about $100 annually.

“It’s actually cheaper to do this because tax exempt properties will now be getting billed for it and the customer ratio is based on meter size,” Roemer said. “It will look like a huge spike, but it was previously charged on the levy.”

Tax exempt customers that will now be paying this charge include churches, schools and the county.

“It should go to all residents since they’re getting the benefit of fire protection whether you’re a utility payer or not,” Roemer said. “What it will do is it will free up that money in the levy. It will help us not have to borrow money for other things. In all likelihood the levy is not going to change. What it does is it frees up those funds for other uses within the levy.”

Village President Becky Beissel said she likes the PFP being spread out to all property owners.

“It’s actually more fiscally responsible in my opinion,” she said.

Roemer said about 71% of municipalities across the state are converting the PFP charge to water bills.

“But it shows up as a new charge and it’s very hard to get that message out,” he said. “Rely on the presentation that was shown tonight that shows the average is actually going down.

The next part of the discussion centered on special assessments for the 2024 utility projects. Tyler Hastings from CBS Squared has been working with Administrator/Clerk-Treasurer Brad Roy and Public Works Director Brad Vick on the Grant and Piety Streets project. The plan is to add an 8-foot-wide trail along Grant and most of Piety, install new curb, gutter, water and sewer lines, driveway aprons and asphalt.

The cost of the Grant St. and Piety St. utility upgrades and reconstruction is estimated to be $5,500,000.00. The final cost will not be known until the bids are received. The total cost of the project can be added to the utility bills, through increased utility rates. In this situation all utility users will pay for the project. Another option is to use special assessments.

Current Ellsworth Code states that special assessments for curb and gutter will be split 50/50 by the village and property owners adjacent to the work. Hastings estimated if this is the route the village goes, the average assessment per property owner would be $8,000, and those with corner lots being $13,000-$15,000. The village would work with residents to set a payment schedule and percentage rates.

Roemer said if the village chooses to not special assess for these projects, the PSC might deny its water rate case application.

“I think we need a little time to digest this personally and have people look at it before a decision is made,” said Trustee Andrew Borner.

“I would be livid if I lived on one of these roads and the board voted on it and I didn’t know about it. We need to notify people,” said Trustee Ryan Bench.

Attorney Bob Loberg said the village can adjust the special assessment amount down the road, but no later than the May meeting.

“Every dollar that isn’t special assessed gets added to utility bills,” Roy said. “Where I struggle is this is two projects that are needed; however, it can get delayed if the board doesn’t want to take this on. But it will only add costs in the future because prices are going to go up. If this was an easy problem it probably would have been solved years ago before this board started. There’s no great answer.”

The board will discuss special assessments for the Grant and Piety Streets projects at the May board meeting.

Other business

  • The board approved a Request for Proposal for the old junior high property at 254 S. Chestnut St. The RFP outlines the submittal requirements and timelines for development proposals.
  • The board voted to implement water, police, library and park impact fees effective immediately. The village has not charged these fees since 2019.
  • The village assessor set Open Book for May 8; the Board of Review will be held May 15.
  • The board voted to donate $200 to the Ellsworth Senior Grad Night event.
  • The board voted to renew its Pierce County Economic Development Association membership at the silver level. Beissel abstained.
  • The American Legion Post 204 Memorial Day parade will be held from 9:45-10:10 a.m. May 27.
  • The board approved a Temporary Class “B”/ “Class B” Retailer’s License for the Pierce County Fair Aug. 8-11 for the Wine and Beer judging and Beer Garden.
  • The board approved a Class A license and cigarette and tobacco product license for CAPL Retail LLC, dba Express Lane, 101 N. Maple St. This is because they changed names.
  • The board approved a Temporary Class “B”/ “Class B” Retailer’s License for the St. Francis School Gala on April 20, 244 W. Woodworth St. Beissel abstained.
  • The board approved a Temporary Class “B”/ “Class B” Retailer’s License for the Ellsworth FFA Alumni’s Showdown in Curdtown on June 8. Beissel and Tony Hines abstained.
Ellsworth Village Board, water rates, Public Service Commission, Ellsworth, Wisconsin