Special assessment process for water mains under review
Aldermen want to make sure people have time to prepare for expense
Last week, in the face of an overflow and outraged crowd, the Brookfield Common Council voted to approve a water main project for the Meadow View community. This was just weeks after the council approved a similarly controversial project for Brookhill Acres.
These projects, totaling more than $1 million in costs, will be paid for via special assessment - in other words, by the affected homeowners.
It's part of an effort on the city's part to bring municipal water to the entire community, even to those who have private wells. For affected homeowners, it can mean between $8,000 and $15,000 in additional costs.
These back-to-back projects have the city reconsidering its procedures when it comes to water main projects - there will be a legislative referral to review the way the city plans these projects and notifies residents.
Aldermen Rick Owen and Bob Reddin are calling for the review, which likely will examine whether people are given the most notice possible so they can plan for such a major expense.
Saving to pay for water
Under the current system, those living in the affected neighborhoods receive a letter every year for five years prior to the project's beginning. The water utility also sends a letter to homeowners letting them know of the impending work two years ahead of construction. The city sends out another notice about 18 months prior to construction to remind homeowners of the special assessment.
In all, there are seven notices sent before the city even has a public hearing.
Property owners have 10 years to pay the special assessment and can choose to finance with the city or through a private lender. Residents have 10 years to connect to the water because of the additional costs associated with hooking the house up to the water main.
Those who end up paying a hefty assessment often wonder just why their neighborhood was targeted in the first place. The city does have certain factors it looks at when deciding when and where to install water mains.
"We always look for dead ends and water quality issues that might be in an area that (main installation) might make the water quality better," explained City Superintendent John Simon. His team maintains the mains once city water has been put in, but he works with the Department of Public Works administrators to identify areas in need of mains.
Public Works Director Tom Grisa said part of the way the projects are ranked relates to the bigger picture in the city. If construction in one area would facilitate flowing water to other areas, it may be prioritized over a less essential part of the water grid.
Ripping the band-aid
Road construction also helps set the timetable for these projects.
"The city will evaluate all those areas that do not have water and we look at these areas when we're going to resurface roads," Grisa said. "I'm a big believer in, rip the band aid off fast, get in there and get it all done at once."
City officials don't want homeowners to have to endure multiple major projects in the span of several years, which means if the road is going to be ripped up to be resurfaced, it makes sense to do any other work that would require the road to be torn apart.
Another factor that could bump a neighborhood up the priority list would be the existence of failing private wells.
City projects are planned and residents are notified at least five years in advance. Annual newsletters let residents know where the projects are coming with a map that is approved along with the capital budget during the budget approval process.
For information on the process and specifics about paying for water main projects, visit the city's website at www.ci.brookfield.wi.us.
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