Park Falls Water Utility asks state PSC to consider ways to limit water rate hikes at public hearing
Residents of Park Falls are bracing themselves for a big increase in their water utility bills. Rates are expected to increase by about 75 percent due to the permanent closure of the city’s paper mill.
At a public hearing Thursday, the Park Falls Municipal Water Utility asked the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to consider minimizing that price hike by lowering the estimated cost of depreciation.
In other words, the utility is arguing it does not need to maintain all of its current water infrastructure because the mill that used most of that water is no longer functioning.
“With the mill closure, we would never be able to use the amount of water that we’re producing as it sits today,” said Park Falls City Administrator Brentt Michalek.
When the paper mill in Park Falls was fully operational, it used up to 1.5 million gallons of water a day. The Park Falls Municipal Water Utility had to build and maintain the infrastructure to meet that industrial demand.
“We created a water system that supports a mill, but we don’t need that kind of support anymore,” Michalek says. “We would simply discontinue some of those wells if we could.”
These days, the city utility sometimes has to let thousands of gallons of water run in order to prevent mains from bursting.
Since the paper mill is no longer paying for this water, the cost is being passed down to residential customers.
The Public Service Commission has proposed a water utility increase which amounts to about $25 more a month for the average household.
Community members like Benjamin Fox, who owns a laundromat in town, worry about the increasing water bills.
“Based on what I’m projecting for this rate change, I’ll basically be cutting in half my profit margin annually,” he said at the hearing. “So, even a small shift from what [the Public Service Commission] is proposing is going to have a large influence on our situation.”
The commission can take those comments into account as it determines what the city must charge for its water utility rates. The city administrator expects that decision will come in about a month.