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Belleville water rate to increase
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MADISON - Belleville's average residential customers will be paying 30.6 percent more - or $6.71 more each month - for water, according to an order issued March 16 by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

Average residential customers currently paying $21.89 monthly for 3,000 gallons of water will pay $28.60 for the same volume when the new rates take effect around March 30 and will be reflected on water bills mailed later next month, said Brian Wilson, village administrator.

The dollar amounts include the public fire protection charge collected on water bills for hydrant maintenance and other firefighting expenses the utility incurs.

It is the first water rate increase for the village since late 2010 when the PSC authorized a 32 percent increase in residential rates.

Rates for the utility's multi-family, commercial, industrial and public entity customers will increase between 23 and 49 percent depending on customer category and water usage.

The utility initially filed a rate request in July seeking to boost revenue by 29 percent in order to keep up with operating expenses that have fluctuated between $283,208 in 2013 and an estimated $270,077 last year. Meanwhile, revenue has climbed from $320,418 in 2013 to an estimated $346,687 last year, according to the PSC rate order.

The utility has been operating in the black in recent years, posting annual net incomes of $37,210 in 2010 and $76,610 last year. However, the rate of return on the value of its infrastructure last year was an estimated 2.18 percent, which is below the 2.75 percent rate of return authorized in the 2010 rate case and allowed the utility to seek higher rates.

In analyzing the rate request, PSC staff trimmed the utility's 5 percent requested rate of return to 4.9 percent and authorized rates that will boost annual income by an estimated $95,234 to a total of $441,821. After total expenses of $270,077, which includes depreciation and payments in lieu of taxes, the PSC projects the utility would have a net income of $171,844, up from $76,610 without the new rates.

The village currently struggles to supply enough water from the two wells it operates and needs another one, according to information submitted to the PSC. Recently, when one well was out of service and the standpipe reservoir was being repainted, the utility was unable to provide enough water to its residents, the submission stated.

The water utility had requested a two-step rate increase that would bump up rates to cover the new well's $1.6 million estimated cost when it is completed. However, since the utility had not submitted a well construction request to the PSC until mid-January, months after the rate request was filed, the PSC instructed the utility to seek higher rates for the well's cost after the project is completed.

Wilson said the utility will probably seek another rate increase later this year to finance the cost of the new well.

On March 19, the village board accepted bids totaling $1.193 million for drilling the final well and constructing a well house.

"Costs for drilling the test well have already been expended, bringing the project's total cost to about $1.5 million," Wilson said. 

The well project will be completed late this year and will be located near the intersection of Wisconsin 92 and County PB.

The new well will produce enough water to meet current and future demand, according to consulting engineers from MSA Professional Services Inc. out of Madison.