Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Berlin Water Sale Moves Forward; Water Value Study To Come Later

Milwaukee's Public Works Committee voted 4-1 Tuesday to fund a study to help it determine the true value of water it might sell to the suburbs - - but also approved a deal to sell water to New Berlin for 20 years that would take effect before the water value study is finished.

It's an approach and an arrangement that I had argued was premature and inadequate.

Both recommendations go on to the full Common Council for approval.

The Daily Reporter's take, in part, is here

The New Berlin deal calls for wholesale water deliveries to New Berlin at rates approved by the state Public Service Commission, and a one-time, $1.5 million so-called regional benefits payment from New Berlin into Milwaukee's general fund...

There were several hours of testimony Tuesday about the pros and cons of accepting the one-time payment before having experts study water's true value, hence the accuracy of the payment in relationship to the water sale and what regional services or assets it might leverage.

Aldermen on the committee were persuaded by representatives of New Berlin who said if Milwaukee were to delay the deal and wait for the study, New Berlin might pursue buying water from Oak Creek, though the water from Oak Creek would be more expensive and without the City of Milwaukee's superior filtration.

The water valuation study, carrying a $50,000 price tag, should be completed in several months and available to guide future water sales to additional suburban communities that will surely come to Milwaukee in New Berlin's footsteps.
My take?

The city should get the study rolling immediately, then continue to negotiate with New Berlin with independent data and opinion in hand.

The odds are slim that New Berlin would agree to purchase more expensive water from Oak Creek, or to install filtration equipment on its own troubled wells - - another option that is also more expensive than buying Milwaukee's superior water.

New Berlin's proposal, while substantial, does little to help Milwaukee's extensive low-income population with pressing transit and housing issues.

And the agreement does not obligate New Berlin to expand its affordable housing stock (currently 80 units in a city of 39,000 people, and nearly all for seniors, not working families), or its transit connections (the last direct bus route from Milwaukee to New Berlin's main business area, its industrial park, was ended in 2004).

The Milwaukee water transfer is headed to New Berlin's "middle-third," site of the induustrial park and open land, where studies indicate up to 1,119 new housing units and 5,668 new jobs could be created.

The process the committee chose to follow - - water sale first, then a study to determine water's value - - amounts to a missed opportunity for Milwaukee to define water's relationship to development - - issues that will face other communities in Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes.

If water is really the next oil, the aldermanic committee put this year's Milwaukee city budget considerations - - important certainly for local officials - - ahead of larger state, regional and international water-related considerations.

And should the study conclude that Milwaukee didn't get a good enough payment from New Berlin, or enough exchange in services, how would Milwaukee convince the next city with an application that it wasn't entitled to the New Berlin formula?


Anonymous said...

Mayor Barrett sure knows how to create jobs in the suburbs, especially jobs that don't connect to his constituents via transit.

Milw officials need to wake up and realize that their job is to help foster job growth here, not in New Berlin.

PS Thank you to Ald Bauman for his leadership against this horrible deal.

James Rowen said...

What has been mind-boggling is that the Council passed the sale agreement, but will not have in hand the findings of a pricing study that it also approved, but which won't be available for several months.

New Berlin put on the full court press for a decision now, and its pressure prevailed.

We'll know in a few months whether Milwaukee got a good deal, or not.