Last summer’s torrential rains caused sewage and floodwater to back up into nearly half of Shorewood’s homes. Many of those homeowner vowed that no cost is too great to prevent a repeat of the event.
Last week, the Shorewood Village Board approved a $34 million plan to fix the aging sewers and Tuesday night the board got down to the nitty-gritty discussion of how to pay for the work and in what order the projects will be done.
The owner of an average house assessed at $300,000 pays $7,629 in taxes and a sanitary utility fee of $343. Property owners would not see a big jump in property taxes for the sewer fix until 2015, when taxes on the $3000,000 home would jump $303, and other projects planned by the village would add another $107 in taxes and fees.
The cost will peak in 2025 with an additional taxes and fees of $811 for sewers and other projects, bringing the total tax bill of $8,970 for the average house. Village Manager Chris Swartz said the cost of the sewer fix would gradually decline after 2025.
The question is whether the other half of Shorewood — the owners of homes unharmed by the catastrophe — will be willing to pay the price to fix the aging sewer system.
"It seems reasonable to us,” said Village President Guy Johnson. “Maybe when they vote us out of office they will come up with their own plan.”
The sewer system in Shorewood, a community of 13,000 residents, is unique among Milwaukee suburbs. All other suburbs have a two-sewer system, one sewer to carry rainwater and a second storm designed to carry the waste from toilets and sinks.
The eastern half of Shorewood, like much of the City of Milwaukee, has a single sewer that carries rain and waste. The system is called a combined sewer system.
The original plan to fix the sewers focused on separating the combined sewers by building a new sewer for waste. The old one would carry the rainwater into local waterways. But many homes have drain tiles – systems designed to keep rain away from the foundations – that feed directly into the sewer meant to carry waste. The new plan does not require that drain tiles be disconnected.
The western half of Shorewood, like the other suburbs, has the two-sewer system known as a separated sewer system. These systems are plagued by leaky laterals, which are pipes maintained by the homeowner. Many of those homes also have drain tiles.
Swartz suggested that the board consider a requirement that the drain tiles be disconnected at the time of sale if a home is located in the western part of the village where there are separate sewers for rainwater.
Trustee Michael Maher balked at the suggestion.
"With the current market, that creates a disincentive for people to buy houses,” Maher said.
Trustee Ellen Eckman asked how much businesses and non-profit organizations will have to pay for the sewer fixes.
Swartz responded that all would pay something but it would vary by water use.
“I just don’t want it to come as a surprise to anyone,” Eckman said. “The businesses probably understand that they will have to pay something. I’m not sure the schools and the churches do.”
Swartz noted that planners already shaved some $20 million from the first set of figures by coupling sewer work with road reconstruction, saving the cost of tearing up a street twice.
He also said the current funding plan does not include special assessments for property owners, even though it would reduce the overall cost to village property owners by charging those that benefit directly from the new sewer lines.
“If you want to add them you can,” Swartz told the board. “It’s harder to take them off than to put them on.”
The discussion, he said, would continue. The next step would be to seek public comment on how the costs of the projects will be assessed.