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Whitefish Bay lays foundation for stormwater utility

Property owners will be charged based on stormwater runoff from average Bay property

June 4, 2013

Whitefish Bay — Faced with internal and external pressures, the Village Board on Monday approved in concept the implementation and price of a stormwater utility to fund part of the village's 15-year stormwater and sewer infrastructure overhaul.

Property owners will be charged based on "residential equivalent units," calculated based on stormwater runoff to represent the average Whitefish Bay residential property. On Monday, the conversation among trustees for the most part concerned how much the village would charge property owners per REU.

An analysis by the village's financial adviser shows that the amount the village would have to borrow, and therefore tax, to cover the remainder of the stormwater work is inversely proportial to the REU rate. Based on the board's action to institute the utility at a rate of $100 per REU, the average Whitefish Bay resident with a $400,000 home would pay a maximum of $672 in taxes in 2021 to pay off that debt — for a total of $772. By 2027, taxes for the stormwater work would scale down to $596 for the same average property owner.

Village President Julie Siegel pointed out that two specific factors are forcing the Village Board's hand when it comes to creating the utility. First, that revenue from a $100 per REU utility was factored into the 2013 budget the board approved last winter, meaning the current board would create an approximately $300,000 shortfall if it decided against the utility. Second, that the state Joint Finance Committee is considering imposing a limit which, after 2013, would force local governments to deduct the amount of any new fees or utilities from their overall levies.

"If we don't create this, we'll lose the opportunity," Siegel said.

Opposing view

Newly elected trustee Carl Fuda, the lone vote against the creation of the utility, opposed it for a number of reasons. In a letter to the Village Board he argued that residents pay more with a utility than they would if the village only borrowed to pay for the stormwater work, that the utility would be a burden on village nonprofits and the school district, and that the utility "can be used to tax our populace long after the current list of planned improvements are completed."

"We have the financial flexibility to pay for this in other ways," Fuda said, adding that in relation to the taxes, fees and assessments residents already pay, "I don't think we should add a stormwater utility to the list."

Trustee Jay Miller said that between paying for the work in-part by the utility or entirely by taxes, in most cases the cost would be comparable for residents.

"It depends on how intricate you want to get in the discussion," Miller said. "It's not just this or that."

Residents' concerns

Several residents and a non-resident trustee of Saint Monica Parish addressed the board, relaying their concerns over how a utility could impact the village's various nonprofits.

"I think it's a burden that's going to hurt us," said resident and Saint Monica parishioner Bob O'Brien.

Village Manager Patrick DeGrave said the village will soon be sending out letters the 20 property owners who are anticipated to pay the most for the stormwater utility. The Village Board still needs to approve the necessary ordinances and resolutions to officially institute the utility.

BY THE NUMBERS

$100

Amount the average Whitefish Bay homeowner will pay for the stormwater utility

$672

Taxes that homeowner would pay in 2021, the peak tax year for the stormwater work

$1.68

Stormwater work tax rate, per $1,000 of assessed value, in 2021

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