Wausau’s Department of Public Works and Utilities requested the Finance Committee on Wednesday to approve ARPA funding for eight projects related to road reconstruction, water and sewer, including three that are mandatory.
The total amount requested for the projects under the American Rescue Plan’s Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds is more than $2.92 million. The Wausau City Council has already approved ARPA funding of more than $2.48 for various projects from the DPW.
The largest funding request in this batch, $658,695, is for a project on bidding documents and developing a design of granular activated carbon or GAC treatment technology to be installed in the new water treatment plant. In July, the Wausau Water Works Commission approved the project for install GAC technology.
Members of the Finance Committee will rank the projects and will take a vote on them next Tuesday. A final decision on the requests will be made by the Wausau City Council.
In his memo and his briefing to the Finance Committee on Wednesday requesting funding for the projects, Public Works Director Eric Lindman said that the DPW is seeking ARPA funds since the utility has been under expenditure strain. The biggest of those has been due to the new water treatment facility construction.
Three of the projects – lead service line replacement plans, a corrosion control optimization study, and the sewer lift station upgrade design – are mandatory as required by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The road portions of the projects under the annual road reconstruction projects are being funded from the capital plan with debt, Lindman said.
Lindman said the financial situation, especially those related to water and sewer, will not ease until the utility is able to realize new water and sewer rates which is not expected until the middle of 2023.
The current rate has been in place since a 32% increase implemented over two installments – 29% in July 2020 and 3% in January 2021. The rate is established by the state’s Public Service Commission. Lindman said no additional rate increases are allowed until the new plant is complete. “Based upon the extensive rate review process of the PSC we do not expect the rate increase to go into effect until May or June of 2023,” he wrote.
Committee Chair Lisa Rasmussen Finance Director Maryanne Groat supported Lindman’s concern over financial strain on the utility.
“We are in the middle of a very large legacy project, water and sewer facility that have really constrained some of this capital,” said Rasmussen, adding that the utility, before the legacy projects, was in a robust financial health. She said they need to help the utility now with the situation rebounding once the new plant starts generating revenue for the utility, the committee chair said.
Groat said that the cost of the projects that are underway and the PSC’s rates restraints have put a lot of financial pressure on the utility.
“This would be a big assistance to the utility,” she said.
Member questions $235,000 request for ‘communication and public education’ on solar array panels
Meanwhile, a proposed study related to solar array panels for the new water treatment plant led to some sharp questioning during the discussion on Wednesday.
In his memo to the Finance Committee requesting ARPA funds, DPW’s Lindman wrote the project “will study and possibly design an alternative energy source for the water treatment facility.” The panel will reduce electricity bills for the utility, he said.
“So $235,000 to sell this plan to the general public?” asked Alder Doug Diny.
Lindman said that the project contract is for a lot more than that. He then referred to the opposition by residents around Bugbee Avenue, the original site chosen for the solar array panel, saying the reaction “pulled back everything” and delayed the initiative.
“It’s not our intent right now to spend $235,000 because that includes full design of the facility,” he said.
The DPW was looking to fund “the communication plan and general concepts and informing the public.”
When Diny asked if the communication and education part would be “a fraction of $235,000,” Lindman said he didn’t know what the breakdown would be. The alder from Dist. 4 said he would not support the project without more specific details. He also said that given the resistance of the people to the array, the city is negotiating with the wrong people.
Rasmussen said those residents appear to be concerned about the aesthetics of the area and the environmental impact of installing the array in their neighborhood but is more amenable to the idea now. “
Compromise is reachable there,” Rasmussen said.
She said a wider public discussion is needed and the project will do that.
Finance Director Groat said the intention behind the projects is to reimburse the utility for any of the study that has taken place so far.
“This is not all on communication. It would be the bill that we have already paid,” said Groat.