By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — The first of two proposed sewer rate hikes in Wausau will cost the average homeowner about $100 per year, according to a public notice issued this week.

The proposed sewer rate increase is being recommended by the Wausau Waterworks Commission to fund a proposed $80 million wastewater facility upgrade. City officials say the first increase will cost an average residential user $8.59 per month, which calculates to a $25.76 increase in the average quarterly bill.

Wausau Waterworks is proposing borrowing the funds using the Clean Water Fund Program, a federally subsidized loan program. The program is a federal-state partnership that provides communities a permanent, independent source of low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.

Wausau aims to borrow funds in 2020 for the project to will allow the current facility to meet new, stricter phosphorous and capacity requirements while improving safety, reliability and performance.

The city has contracted with Sheboygan-based Donohue and Associates for preliminary design services, which is expected to cost $1,113,875. The upgrades are meant to enhance safety, reliability and performance for the facility, which was constructed in three phases beginning in 1939. Wastewater treatment facilities that discharge to Wisconsin water bodies, such as Wausau’s, are regulated by the Department of Natural Resources through the Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Wausau’s current permit, required because of discharge to the Wisconsin River, expired on Dec. 30, 2015, according to city documents. The next permit will include a low-level phosphorous limit that the current facility is not equipped to comply with.

The yet-to-be determined second rate increase, proposed for 2020, will depend on the final design and engineering estimate for the project, according to Public Works Director Eric Lindman.

Residents can have their say and learn more about the project at a pubic hearing, which will include a short five-minute presentation prior to public comment. The hearing is set for 5 p.m. Oct. 17 at Wausau City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau. PowerPoint slides are available here.

Image courtesy: Michael Martens, Wausau Interactive, LLC

16 replies on “Your sewer bill in Wausau will go up by about $100 next year. Here’s why.”

  1. Let’s add some facts and context to the information. The average residence currently pays between $350 and $450 per year for water. An increase of $100 is a +25% change.

    Blaming an construction project that has not even started yet is misleading. In 2017, the city issued $11,040,000 in water and sewer revenue bonds and $5,055,000 in water and sewer revenue bond anticipation notes. That is $16.1 million in new debt that requires an increase in revenue pay.

    Of that amount, $7,662,525 was not used for water and sewer projects. Rather, it was used to refinance lower-cost general obligation bonds with higher-cost revenue bonds. Why would anyone do such a thing? The move freed-up general obligation bond authority to be used for cost-overruns in economic development projects.

    The $5,055,000 in bond anticipation notes are five-year, interest-only debt instruments that require a balloon payment of the principal in 2022. The city will have to issue more revenue bonds to refinance these notes at a time when interest rates are likely to be higher.

    Finally, it should be remembered that the city’s sewer and water utility subsidizes the city’s general fund. In 2018, the city-owned utility will make a payment to the City of Wausau of $1,520,000 in lieu of paying property taxes. According to the new budget, that amount will jump 4.3% to $1,585,012 in 2019.

    I would recommend that readers take the claim that the need to upgrade the wastewater treatment facility–a project that is still in the planning stages–is the one and only cause of water bill rate hikes with a grain of salt.

    1. I would like to clarify some of the comments offered. The $5,055,000 of revenue bond anticipation notes will be issued in 2018 with closing set for early December of this year. The purpose of the issue is to fund the engineering costs associated with water and sewer plant upgrades. These issues will be refinanced in 2020 when the City obtains permanent financing for the facility upgrades through the Clean Water Fund and Safe Drinking Water Fund. Both of these programs were developed by the Federal Government to offer low interest loans to communities for utility improvements. The interest rate on these loans will be lower than the City could obtain in the open market.

      The loan refinancing noted above did save the Water and Sewer Utility money. Based upon the sales data prepared by our financial advisors, the Water Utility’s net present value benefit was $91,099 or 3.212% of the issue. The true interest cost of the new issue was 2.5536% and the retired debt interest rate was 3-3.25%. The Sewer Utility’s net present value benefit was $35,786 or 1.266% of the issue. The true interest cost of the new issue was 2.393% and the retired debt interest rates was 3-3.25%. The City always intended to refinance these issues with revenue bonds.

  2. So what is your point Keene, remember when Walker took office and improvement funds for the states water supplies were scrapped and water quality levels were delayed… now we have a need and it must be complied with… have you seen the algae blooms in the Eau Plane Reservoir, do we want that in Wausau Lake and the Wisconsin River?

    “The next permit will include a low-level phosphorous limit that the current facility is not equipped to comply with.” Should have been put into play in 2011 and add in the brown water run off and farm runoffs, we are locking at an ugly soup!

    When you let our infrastructure fall apart, fail to maintain roads, systems, building, and decide that not mowing our parks and decide to eliminate curb side pickup of large items… where is the foresight and planning… now we face more funding cuts from the state.. the DOR has just changed our funding ability and as a city we have to respond to situation forced upon us by outside sources and poor planning in the past… but the current leadership is working to maintain and improve Wausau…

  3. Time to dispense more millions for the River Waste District to please the Downtown Clique. Another party for the mayor and his downtown clique?

    1. This is about clean water and funding improvements and building a water supply for present customers and future customers… When our situation requires improvements, then we do it, if we put it off, then later it will cost more… balancing a budget with limited funding is difficult, but then when the STATE DOR manages to reduce the tax revenue… we make due… and move forward… some 500 new residential apartments throughout the city, water treatment, completion of the River Walk, the YMCA – ASPIRUS setting for some real quality health care, changes to the Mall to allow a new furniture store, and maintenance of our streets and city structures. Where is the city center? 400 Block, The Grand Theater, education facilities like Steven Point Wausau Campus, NTC, non-profit and for-profit ventures throughout the city, the River, Lake Wausau, the Whitewater Course, Soccer fields, public pools, WSD, our breweries and eateries and the Curling Center… Golf courses… it is about all of Wausau… you you are still thinking like it is junior high…. we are all in this together and unless outside forces screw things up, we will succeed…

  4. Population of Wausau has been the same for over 20 years. Their income has been the same for 20 years. Governments enjoys around an additional $500 per year from taxation and waste. Our “leaders” objective is to keep the Downtown Clique happy. The rest of you, hand us your income. What was the number we wasted to please the downtown clique? $26 millions or $36 millions?

    Wausau is now the “Trashiest” city in Wisconsin.

    1. Your source is less than high quality…
      The unemployment rate in Wausau is 4.4% (U.S. avg. is 5.2%). Recent job growth is Positive. Wausau jobs have increased by 1.83%. Learn More…
      Compared to the rest of the country, Wausau’s cost of living is 17.20% lower than the U.S. average. Learn More… or Compare Wausau’s Cost of Living
      Wausau’s population is 39,094 people. Since 2000, it has had a population growth of 5.49%. Learn More…
      Average Commute time is 18 minutes. The National Average is 26 minutes. Learn More…
      The median home cost in Wausau is $102,600. Home appreciation the last 10 years has been 7.77%. Check out the homes in the area.
      Wausau public schools spend $12,254 per student. The average school expenditure in the U.S. is $12,383. There are about 14.5 students per teacher in Wausau. Learn More…
      Best Places to Live in Wausau Rankings
      #5 America’s Best and Worst Cities for Crime (Smallest Metro Areas)
      #94 America’s Most (and Least) Stressful Cities (117 Smallest Metro Areas)
      #106 Best Green Cities
      #208 2005 Best Places to Live

    2. It is a comfortable place for useless ex government employees collecting ton of pension dollars on the back of the hard working Middle class (what is left of it). Walker did not fix the problem. We need a true “Walker”. One that will eliminate all pensions permanently, liquidate 50% of all government employees and their wasteful retardations (waste).

  5. Wausau, Wisconsin’s estimated population is 38,739 according to the most recent United States census estimates. Wausau, Wisconsin is the 17th largest city in Wisconsin based on official 2017 estimates from the US Census Bureau.

    The population density is 2050.92 people/mi² (791.86 people/km²), with a household density of 379.16 people/km² (982.02 people/mi²).

    The overall median age is 39.1 years, 37.4 years for males, and 41 years for females. For every 100 females there are 94.7 males.

    Based on data from the American Community Survey, in 2017 there were 18,549 households in the city, with an average size of 2.27 people per household. The vacancy rate was 9.7%, with a median rent of $654/month. The median house has 5.6 rooms, and has a value of $112,700.

    The median income for households in Wausau, Wisconsin is $41,349, while the mean household income is $56,666. The per capita income is $24,800, and 13.8% of families and 18.2% of individuals are below the federal poverty line. 26.8% of those under 18 are in poverty, and 10.2% of those 65 years or older.

    1. John,

      The median household income in Wausau has been essentially stagnant over the last decade. According to the ACS data you mention, this median was $41,169 in 2009. It is only about $200 higher (and not quite) nearly ten years later, despite all of Wausau’s spending and “economic development.” The mean income saw a somewhat higher increase during that period, but this was due mainly to changes in higher income brackets — not really from gains for the working and middle classes. Median household income is a much better gauge of income progress for Wausau — or the lack thereof — for residents at large, in this respect.

      And if you truly think that water quality (particularly surface water quality) is a top priority for City Hall and the state, then further review of City and DNR documents should remedy that misconception.

      1. Tom Kilian,

        The median household income in Wausau has been essentially stagnant over the last decade.
        $41,349 Wausau
        $54,610 WI

        water quality is a top priority for City Hall and the state, it is needed for our brewing… and the permit has expired and we need to up grade…

        so what point are you attempting to make, I am curious?

  6. Thanks Tom Kilian. The point is our taxes are one of the highest and going up. Many homes are over assessed which make taxes even more out of line. Lower than average incomes makes it even more difficult to pay any tax/utility increase. And, the TIF/TID structure/debt structure only hurts the taxpayers/anybody living in Wausau even more. Can’t wait to see this years City Budget/shell game.

  7. John Enk, those Wausau income numbers should scare the H out of you, City Hall, all Wausau Taxpayers/renters. Surely a big negative vs living outside City proper. And, then look at our taxes
    and water sewer costs — scary. Plus more costs to come, debt, ++++

    1. Yes, I very concerned with the stagnant wages since the nation pulled out of the Great Recession, concerned that Wisconsin did lag behind and while the state median income is $13,271 higher than Wausau… and the state DOR just made a change that will eliminate millions in tax revenue for the city… Wausau had been hit three ways since ACT 10…. share reviews to the city and country, and funding for education and funding for NTC and UWMC… all have meant Wausau has lost resources and income… Meanwhile, FOX CONN is getting billions in inceptive money and millions in tax breaks and with the higher costs for steal and aluminum, contracting costs increase… love the idea of construction jobs, but when the tax dollars are diverted to the corner of the state… what happens in Central Wisconsin?

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