A conflict between the city and the county over the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District continues, with Mayor Paul Soglin wanting more say in who serves on the utility's commission.
At last week's Common Council meeting, Soglin wanted the council to request that the state Legislature change the makeup of the sewerage commission.
By state statute, the commission is made up of five people, all appointed by the Dane County executive. Soglin proposed the state change the commission to a nine-member body, giving the Madison mayor five appointments, cities and villages three, and the towns in the district one. And Soglin wants five of the members to be elected officials.
Soglin's argument is that the sewerage district "serves less than 75% of the county's population, and sewerage services are not a county service."
One of Soglin's aides, Nicholas Zavos, elaborates: "He really just wants to make sure that the municipalities and the people who pay these bills have a voice in this body.
"He is concerned about rising costs [of sewage rates]," Zavos adds. "You look around the country and water and sewage are beginning to be like heat, where people need assistance to pay for it. That appointing authority should be the people paying the bills."
A number of environmental advocates spoke against the proposal at the council meeting, and Soglin agreed to have more talks with County Executive Joe Parisi, to try to work something out without involving the Legislature.
The sewerage district treats wastewater from five cities -- Fitchburg, Madison, Middleton, Monona and Verona -- as well as seven villages and parts of 10 towns in the county. The district bills each municipality for the amount of sewage it treats; the municipalities pass the bills on to residents. The district treats about 42 million gallons of water a day. This year's operating budget is $27 million (up 7.5% from 2012). The capital budget is $30.3 million.
Josh Wescott, an aide to Parisi, says sewage rates in Madison are 30% lower than in comparable districts. And he notes that "60% to 65% of the effluent comes from Madison, but 80% of the board is people who reside in Madison."
Caryl Terrell, the commission's current president, says that although Madison's sewage rates are competitive, the cost of dealing with sewage will continue to rise. The district is dealing with new statewide phosphorus regulations.
"We do know the rates are going up," she says. "Our expenses are going up as we try to deal with the new phosphorus rule. But we also have an infrastructure built 50 to 60 years ago, and it's running out of life. We need to be replacing it."
Wescott says Parisi will take into consideration any commission appointment recommendations from the city (or municipalities).
Commission members are now appointed to five-year terms. Terrell has been recommended by Parisi for another term, and her reappointment is pending County Board approval.
The next vacancy will be in fall 2014.