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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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City Adopts New Sewer Rates, Fire Dept. Fees

By a series of unanimous votes at their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 7 Peshtigo City Council adopted ordinances that increase sewer rates by approximately 57 percent, authorize charges for some fire department services, require boat launch stickers year round, restore parking on Maple Street between Wells Street and Beebe Ave., and prohibit parking on either side of West Park Drive and in the Municipal Building driveway that extends from French Street south to the alley that runs between Emery and Ellis avenues.

The evening started at 6:30 p.m. with a public hearing on the four proposed ordinances. Only two members of the public addressed the Council.

Karen Hanneman, a resident on Maple Street, has been working to get parking restored there since the Highway 41 bypass removed much of the traffic. She told the Council she had planned to urge them to adopt the ordinance, but if no one disagreed with lifting the parking ban she would not speak. “We’ve needed this ordinance for so long,” she declared. She was told Chief Kent Kline will see to it that the no parking signs are taken down.

“I think it’s outrageous they’re raising it 57 percent,” Sharon Schounard said of the increase in sewer fees. She said her water bill is already $190 a quarter thanks to the recent hike in water rates, and now the sewer bills are going up by more than 50 percent. She commented that when she lived in the country she never had to pay a sewer or water bill.

“Some things were mandated...We didn’t have a choice,” Mayor Al Krizenesky said of the giant leap in sewer usage fees. He mentioned the wastewater treatment plant reconstruction project that is nearing completion at a cost of nearly $2 million, DNR orders to institute a regular water line flushing program, and orders a few years ago to remove naturally occurring radon from the city water supply, all of which must be paid for.

Schounard asked if the money could come from some other city fund instead of being a direct burden on residents.

Alderman Tom Gryzwa told her by Wisconsin regulations water and sewer services are “stand alone”. The services must pay for themselves and not be supported by property tax dollars.

“We’ve got a $1.8 to $1.9 million reconstruction at the sewer plant...It was mandated,” declared former Alderman Fred Meintz, who chairs the Water and Sewer Committee. He said even before the costly reconstruction project the sewer utility had been running in the red for years. “We have to keep our plant up,” he declared, then added, “If you don’t like it, move to the country. Put in a well and septic and pay for that!”

That remark led to a shocked reaction on the part of the Council, and assurances from a couple of aldermen to Schounard that she was more than welcome to stay in the city.

After the hearing adjourned Meintz said that his comment was a response to her statement that in the country she paid no sewer and water bills. He said people in the country pay high prices to have wells and septic tanks put in, and then must keep them maintained. They also pay for electricity to pump water.

Gryzwa explained the sharp hike in the sewer rates happened because rates had not gone up for years and there never was a replacement fund. “Now there will be, and this will not happen again,” he declared.

He explained the consultants have designed the fees to pay all current operating costs plus a fund for future maintenance and replacement.

Alderman Tim Colburn felt they should have raised sewer prices every year, and if they had done so the shock wouldn’t have come all at once.

Schounard said she was worried that people on fixed incomes won’t be able to pay their water and sewer bills.

“I know there are people out there that are going to suffer, but we really had no choice,” Krizenesky replied.

Former Alderman Mary Lock asked if they had totally ruled out the possibility UDAG could give a million dollars to help pay for the wastewater treatment plant upgrade.

Gryzwa said there is still that possibility, but the city has applied for a Clean Water Fund Grant and using the UDAG money could change that picture. “There is money from the government out there,” he said, adding that if that fails they can consider all other possible funding sources, including other grants and the UDAG fund.

Krizenesky noted if the city does get a windfall they could lower sewer rates without going through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. WPSC regulates water rates but not sewer.

When the Fire Department Service Reimbursement Ordinance came up, Alderman Cathi Malke sought to reassure all citizens that they will not be charged for calls to their residences, and was told that is the case.

She also questioned Provision 5, which states: “Rescue Calls shall be invoiced per occurrence with the responsible party being the rescued person or that person’s natural or legal guardian. Assisting at rescue calls will be at no charge.” She said the rescue squad does not charge for calls, and often they need the fire department to assist with lifts, etc. and there should be no bill for their service either.

Krizenesky said it is a matter of billing for services that are covered by insurance. He felt if there is no insurance coverage payment will not be required. “It doesn’t seem like we’re harming anybody but the insurance companies,” he commented.

Gryzwa told Malke intent of the ordinance is to not charge for dual calls, and assured her the wording means that if the Rescue Squad is involved in a call there will be no charge. The charges are to be for other types of rescues, perhaps of a person trapped in a vehicle, or on a boat in the river.

Malke indicated that her concerns had been answered and at the Council meeting later joined the others in voting to adopt the ordinance.

Wording in the Fire Department Fee ordinance states that accounts unpaid after 60 days shall be subject to legal collection action and remedies, which can include assessment against the property that was the site of the emergency to be billed on the following year’s real estate tax.

The boat launch user fee ordinance keeps the annual permit cost at $12 per year for city residents and $18 per year for non-residents. Daily launch permit fees will be $3 for everyone. Fine for lack of a permit or sticker is $25 per occurrence.

City boat launch facilities are located at Riverfront Park and Peshtigo River Landing by the city garage.

Krizenesky said at the restaurant that morning, “They hit me pretty heavy...We need to provide more parking by the city garage...Maybe George could move some of those piles to give more parking space,” he suggested, referring to Public Works Director George Cowell.

“That is a working Department of Public Works yard and really isn’t available for a park,” Cowell replied. He said he and the mayor had looked the area over and they could add a gravel parking shoulder on the south side, and there is a parking area available by the trees that is not very visible.

Gryzwa suggested next spring they could put a sign showing where parking is available.

There were repeated cautions that the discussion was not on the meeting agenda and no action could be taken. Krizenesky asked that it be taken up at a committee meeting in the near future, and Alderman Mike Behnke, Council president, assured him that will be done.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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