Water deal for New Berlin advances
Milwaukee aldermen OK negotiations to sell lake water
By CORISSA JANSEN and GREG J. BOROWSKI
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 27, 2002
The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday granted the Milwaukee
Water Works authority to negotiate the sale of Lake Michigan
water to New Berlin, an agreement that could bring in
about $608,000 a year for Milwaukee.
With a 10-7 vote, aldermen approved pursuing a deal after
officials debated the merits of selling water to expanding
Supporters argued that the Water Works has excess capacity
and that increasing sales to the suburbs can keep rates
down for city customers. Critics have suggested the sale
of water is shortsighted since it can allow suburbs to
grow at the expense of the city, including by luring away
businesses and jobs.
"There certainly is a history, going back to the '60s
and '70s, of concerns that have been brought up - and
it was fair to discuss that," New Berlin Mayor Ted Wysocki
said after the vote.
"But it was also encouraging to hear other remarks by
some (aldermen) who felt that maybe it's time to put aside
the past and begin looking at issues of regional sharing
and concern," Wysocki added.
Any agreement would have to go back to the Milwaukee
Common Council for approval.
This month, Milwaukee's Utilities and Licenses Committee
voted unanimously to recommend that the council authorize
water negotiations with New Berlin.
"I personally think we ought to sell as much water as
we possibly can," Jeff Pawlinski, Milwaukee alderman and
committee chairman, said. "I'm very pro-Milwaukee, but
I don't necessarily consider myself anti-suburbanite."
The Water Works already sells water to all or part of
more than a dozen suburbs that previously relied on well
water, deals that are expected to bring in about $74.1
million this year.
However, critics on Tuesday questioned whether Milwaukee
will benefit in the long term by selling water to suburbs.
"It's not that I don't think New Berlin is a nice community,"
but there is a principle involved in furnishing water,
Milwaukee Ald. Michael Murphy said. Murphy cited a series
of demographic statistics from a required preliminary
study of the plan.
The report provides several comparisons between Milwaukee
and New Berlin. For example, it outlines that the percentage
of families that were below the federal poverty level
in 1999 was 17.4% in Milwaukee, compared with 1.3% in
And according to the report, New Berlin property values
have soared faster than Milwaukee's in the past decade,
with a 77.1% growth in total equalized value in New Berlin
compared with 46.5% growth in Milwaukee. Commercial property
value in New Berlin grew by 135%, compared with 39.7%
Some Milwaukee aldermen said that in the future, any
required study should show whether the suburban community
has a regional transportation plan that allows Milwaukee
County buses to connect with jobs and whether the community
has plans to develop any affordable housing.
"In every one of these cases, we should be negotiating
not only the rate, but things that are in our public interest,
too," Milwaukee Ald. Paul Henningsen said. "You guys are
looking at the dollar signs, but to me there are bigger
Milwaukee Ald. Suzanne Breier noted money is an important
consideration, since the sale is expected to bring in
more than $600,000 a year for the Milwaukee Water Works.
Wysocki said buying Lake Michigan water from the Water
Works or remaining with New Berlin's current groundwater
system are probably the two "best options" for the city
as it grapples with both water quantity and quality issues.
New Berlin still must investigate the financial viability
of remaining on a groundwater supply, Wysocki said. The
city also must determine how much it would cost to meet
federal requirements limiting radium and iron content
and to remedy other quality issues.