Marinette utility manager Tim Peterson addressed members of the city council and two-dozen residents who showed up at city hall Tuesday night to question charges on their water bills. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
Marinette utility manager Tim Peterson addressed members of the city council and two-dozen residents who showed up at city hall Tuesday night to question charges on their water bills. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
MARINETTE - When Marinette residents opened up their water bills earlier this month, approximately one in nine discovered they were on the hook for additional charges.

Those charges apply to every resident with more than one tax parcel, or lot, located within in the city limits. Not surprisingly, many of those who are now being charged for additional Public Fire Protection (PFP) and storm water management were none too pleased with the development.

At the Marinette City Council meeting Tuesday night, several affected residents spoke out against the charges.

Especially displeased were some Riverside Avenue residents, many of whom own small parcels located across the street from their homes, adjacent to the Menominee River. Due to setback and other DNR restrictions, those residents are not allowed of build on or otherwise improve those small riverside slivers of property.

Allen Brey was first to step up to the podium and speak in opposition to the Marinette Water Utility's billing arrangement. 

"I think some well-intentioned people had an abstract idea that they didn't look at - as far as how it was going to actually affect people," Brey said. 

Brey referred to a strip of property across from his Riverside Avenue home. He said he pays $15.60 in taxes on the lot, which is valued at $700. Brey noted that he is now being asked to shell out $160 per year in fire protection and storm sewer fees for a grassy strip of land that simply drains into the river.

"I like the services the city has, but I've got a real hard time swallowing fire protection and wastewater runoff and etc. on a property that I can't do anything with and no one else really can either, so I'm hopeful that the people in charge of the planning for this take another look at what they're doing to property owners such as myself," Brey said before recognizing some of his Riverside Avenue neighbors also in attendance. 

Ken O'Brien, another Riverside Avenue resident, echoed Brey's concerns and asked the city to reconsider its billing plan.

Four other residents addressed the council before Marinette Water Utility Manager Tim Peterson was asked to explain the reasoning behind the billing policy.

"In December 2005, the city decided to phase out payment of the remaining PFP cost over a five-year period beginning in 2006," Peterson read from a prepared statement. "By 2010, the entire cost of providing public fire protection would be direct-billed by the Water Utility," he continued.

Peterson said that in 2004 the PFP charge, as determined by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin was about $600,000. But in 2010, the annual cost of PFP service was at about $800,000, according to Peterson.

"It's an expensive service, and our goal was to try to get everybody to contribute something. That helps to keep the rates a little bit lower for everyone.

"They were paying for it before with their taxes, and their taxes didn't go down, I can't argue that," Peterson said.

Editor's note: Read Thursday's EagleHerald for more on the circumstances and reasoning behind the billing arrangement, as well as a solution that may allow some of those affected to cut the additional charges they now find themselves facing.