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Village residents voice their displeasure over water rate hike

About 10 people attended a telephonic public hearing Jan. 17 at the Ellsworth Village Hall to discuss the proposed water rate increase the village wants to implement.

If the request is approved, the water bill for general service for an average residential customer who uses 1,700 cubic feet of water per quarter will increase from $29.10 to $45.40, or 56 percent, for example. Village officials have said the increase is necessary due to system improvements and increased operating expenses since the last full water rate increase in 1996.

As expected, the residents who spoke during the two-hour hearing voiced their displeasure over the plans.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Roger Hines, owner of Dr. Shine's Car Wash and Hair Traffic Control Beauty Salon, two businesses relying heavily on water. Hines said his water rate would increase nearly 60 percent.

"I don't think it's necessary to do it all in one stab," he added. "I don't want to leave town, but I might have to."

David Schams questioned why a full rate needs to happen now, considering in 2000 and 2002 an incremental rate occurred. His response from the Public Service Commission of Madison (on the phone line) was that was just to deal with inflation that year and the utility needs the money now. Furthermore, Public Works Director Greg Engeset said if the full water rate doesn't occur this year, the village would be right back here next year seeking that rate again.

Diana Bunce felt that, with all the retired people in this town (counting herself among them), because they're living on fixed incomes, the proposed rate would tax those people right out of town.

Discussion then turned to the Crossing Meadows Development, located on Hwy. 65 North and West Crosstown Road, and if the rate had anything to do with that. Engeset replied "the rate increase would be necessary without the development."

He also talked about the growth the village has seen since 1996 and the current well is unable to keep up with the population; therefore, the increased rate is needed. It is believed the increase would generate over $170,000.

"There should be a commercial exemption somewhat, otherwise the water bill will put us out of business," Hines said.

At the end of the hearing, Village Clerk/Treasurer Peggy Nelson said the proposed increase would likely take effect in the second quarter of the year, meaning the reading taken on March 21 will be with the old costs and, from that point on, the new rates will be in effect.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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