Dave Reid

Public Works Committee Approves New Berlin Water Deal

By - Jul 30th, 2008 02:30 pm

This meeting’s highlights included the proposed water sale to New Berlin and the reappointment of Jeff Mantes to the Commissioner the Department of Public Works.

The water sale involved two separate resolutions.  Resolution 080012 would handle the actual water sale and resolution 080011 will enact an intergovernmental agreement contingent on the water sale.  Water sales are regulated by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (“PSC“) which sets the wholesale price of water and oversees water contracts.  Because of this any additional constraints beyond the sales agreement had to handled in an intergovernmental agreement.  This intergovernmental agreement included a non-compete clause between the cities as well as a one time $1.5 million payment to the City of Milwaukee from New Berlin to offset some of the potential economic impact associated with this transaction.  Further as this agreement proposes the sale of water outside of the Great Lakes Basin it follows the requirements set for within the Great Lakes Compact.

New Berlin is seeking to obtain the additional water source to support the middle third of the city, to large extent because of high levels of the radium existing in their water and the depletion of their aquifer.  During the discussion it was brought up, that if New Berlin isn’t able to purchase water from the City of Milwaukee that New Berlin may spend $4 million on an upgrade to their facilities or pursue purchasing water from Oak Creek.  Both of these options were potentially more expensive for New Berlin than purchasing from the City of Milwaukee but Jack F. Chiovatero, the Mayor of New Berlin, indicated the pressing need by stating that “I wouldn’t be sitting in front off you if I didn’t have the radium issue”.

Alderman Robert Bauman repeatedly made the point that New Berlin fails to meet the City of Milwaukee’s guidelines for water sales. These guidelines are based on access to mass transit and affordable housing within the community wishing to purchase water.  Further he pointed out that this resolution does not reflect the original authorization to negotiate as passed by the Common Council in December 2007.  In addition to Alderman Bauman’s vocal opposition various organizations such as the Good Jobs & Livable Neighborhoods Coalition, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, and the ACLU spoke out in opposition to the water sale.  This opposition stems from the idea that sending water to sprawling communities without adequate housing or transit options makes access to the new jobs, that this transaction will support, near impossble for low-income residents of Milwaukee to access.   In addition to those concerns Bill Holahan, the Chairman of the UWM Department of Economics stated that “over the next 20 years the expansion out there will swamp the $1.5 million” and that “economic value of the water is probably not reflected in the $1.5 million”.  Despite these issues and concerns the resolution was approved and sent to a special meeting of the Finance & Personnel Committee held prior to July 30th’s Common Council Meeting.

The other contentious item was the reappointment of Jeff Mantes to the Commissioner the Department of Public Works (“DPW“).  The committee grilled him over communication issues, a lack of followup, poor performance and a perceived lack of leadership.  Alderman Joe Dudzik called Jeff Mantes a “gentleman” but explained that this could be the problem as he doesn’t hold his staff accountable.  Alderman Dudzik also said that when he was in the Department of Public Works the philosophy he used was to “work everyday like there’s a thousand eyes on you”.  Alderman Michael Murphy spoke of communication issues with the DPW and specifically with Jeff Mantes.  Alderman Murphy explained that he sent a letter from the Arts Board and never received a response from Jeff Mantes.  Further, Alderman Murphy presented communications within DPW written in a unprofessional terse fashion, that to committee showed a potentially larger issue within DPW.   This reappointment was approved and will go before the Common Council.

Although the “Wheel Tax” hadn’t passed the Common Council at the time of this committee meeting its upcoming implementation spurred the reopening of resolution 080389. This resolution covered a series of road reconstruction projects that had been awaiting the passage of the “Wheel Tax”.  Numerous road projects from this resolution were approved contingent on its approval.  This resolution was approved and will go before the Common Council.

Categories: Real Estate

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