Over the past year or so, many confusing messages have been sent regarding water billing and water meters in Brookfield. So it's about time the village board is finally beginning to come to grips with the many issues.
Actually, it just seems like many issues?"water billing procedures, water meter readings, meter replacement, billing adjustments, payment plans. In reality, it's about coming up with one coherent, comprehensive solution to what is actually one of the most basic of municipal services?"getting water to homes, businesses and institutions.
The current village ordinance regarding water billing is in need of an update, as are the water meters themselves, some 40 percent of which, according to the village's Public Works director, are obsolete.
At various times in the past, residents have been told that the village's financial condition allowed it to cover the cost of buying park land, abating taxes and repairing parks. The source of that income cited most often was a surplus of some $5-6 million in the village's water fund.
The fact that water fund money couldn't be used for such purposes unless the village board voted to make it a "surplus" was deemed beside the point. The cash was there; it was just waiting to be tapped.
At the same time, the village board in recent years has bypassed addressing the issue of the village's outdated water delivery system by complaining that the roughly $2.5 million price tag was just too high.
But guess what? The cash in the water fund could be used to fund or front the money for replacing that system. That's what that water fund surplus is actually there for. Brookfield has had the money to deal with water meters for years, but no one's seriously made an effort to get the plans in place for a change.
With more and more water meters failing in the village, and more residents beginning to be hit with large water bills as a result, it's time for the board to move this effort along the fast track. Replacing all of the water meters in town will likely be a multi-year process, so the sooner the better.
As far as paying for the replacement, that's also a call the board will have to make. The village can opt to pick up the cost of the meters entirely, or pass the replacement cost on to residents, who can pay it off over time as part of their water bills.
The benefit of the first option is obvious?"residents have no additional out-of-pocket cost. The drawback is that once the money is spent, it's gone. If residents reimburse the village for the cost of the meters, then the fund can be resupplied in order to fund other continuing water projects?"such as water main replacement?"in the future.
One thing's for sure, the need for a reliable, efficient water system won't ever go out of style. Nor will the need for village leadership on this issue.