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Tosa Keeps All Residency Rules; Sewer Rates to Rise

After long debate over several possible changes to Wauwatosa's residency ordinance – including doing away with it all together – Common Council votes to stay with status quo.

Wauwatosa will continue to require all department heads and some high-level supervisors to live in the city – unless they qualify for a waiver – after a failed vote to remove all but three positions from the rule.

Common Council members were all over the map on the issue Tuesday night, as has been the case since it was brought up in mid-summer by city staff seeking to ease hiring restrictions.

The strongest faction proved to be those aldermen who believed that "it isn't broken," citing strong hires for top directorial positions under the current ordinance.

Others, who proved to be in the minority, believed just as strongly that all residency requirements should have been lifted.

In between were the few who actually believed that the compromise offered – requiring residence in Wauwatosa of only the police and fire chiefs and the director of public works – was the best option.

Able to garner only six "aye" votes, though, the measure went down, meaning that for now a lengthy list of city employees down to the library director and public health officer must live here or agree to move here within a year.

That is, unless the Common Council grants them a waiver of the rule, which it has done over and over through the years for those and other jobs, and in fact has never denied.

That practice in particular stuck in the craw of Ald. Cheryl Berdan, who said that having a rule but continually waiving it makes the city "look silly" and hurts its credibility as an employer. Berdan, although having moved the compromise ordinance change, made it clear she really would have supported removing all residency restrictions.

Not all positions covered in the residency ordinance qualify for waivers, however, and among those are the three Berdan's compromise sought to keep restricted. The police chief, fire chief and public works head cannot be exempted by waivers.

That means that when those critical jobs come open, qualified assistant chiefs, none of whom currently live in Wauwatosa (nor are required to under the ordinance), cannot be promoted to those top departmental jobs unless they agree to move into the city – just as would any outside candidate.

For most on the council, that did not seem an unreasonable demand, especially for those emergency-response positions. The minority pleaded without success that the three emergency chiefs are not in fact the first to respond – rather, the supervisory-level and rank-and-file do, and they, for the most part, can live anywhere they like.

Police squads, fire companies, snowplow drivers and the like do not wait on the orders or presence of their chiefs, aldermen said, but move on the word of mid-level supervisors trained for those responses.

Nevertheless, it was the will of most on the council that those positions were, at the least, so symbolically important to the city's commitment to public safety that they had to reside here.

For Alds. Tim Hanson and Jill Organ, the same sentiment extended to all higher-level employees, whom they felt should shop here, school their children here and pay property taxes here as conditions of representing the city.

Ald. Bobby Pantuso, on behalf of removing all residency requirements, injected one argument that hadn't been heard before in the lengthy debate. Residency, he said, should be required only of those who set city policy – himself, his fellow elected aldermen, and the mayor – not those who carry it out.

"Those people are doing a job," he said, "and we've set the expectations. As long as they are doing their jobs professionally, I don't care whether they live here or not – I really don't."

Ald. Pete Donegan echoed that, saying that the city's administrative staff, not the council, was responsible for hiring the best people to fill important positions, "and we should just step out of their way."

Sewer rate increase approved

The council also, without debate, voted Tuesday to raise sanitary and storm sewer service rates by 20 and 21 percent, respectively, in 2013.

Because the sanitary sewer utility is shared just about half-and-half between the city's user rate and that of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District rate, the actual increase on a home or business owner's quarterly bill will be about 12 percent.

The MMSD portion of the bill is expected to rise about 3 percent next year.

Although the vote was only for 2013 rates, city Finance Director John Ruggini had earlier presented a schedule of over at least the next five years.

The rate increases are needed to pay for multiple large sewer rebuilding projects to repair failing pipes due to deferred maintenance, alleviate flooding due to undersized pipes in the face of recurring large rainstorms, and to bring the system into compliance with Department of Natural Resources and MMSD regulations.

Water rates, regulated by the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, are also expected to rise sharply next year and more gradually over the same five years, Ruggini said.

Taken together, water, sanitary sewer and storm sewer rates are projected to rise from $169.79 per quarter this year ($679.16 for the year) to $190.96 per quarter next year ($763.84 for the year). By 2017, according to Ruggini's forecast, the quarterly bill would be $232.61 — or $930.44 for the year as a whole.

alt ideas needed December 19, 2012 at 07:21 PM
F.U. wauwatosa and your elected officials
Mark December 20, 2012 at 04:11 PM
the common council must think the residents of the city have money trees growing on our property. All they seem to do is spend money for this and that. examples: fighting a law suit over tax exempt status, the sewers that had deferred maintenance, studies to see if we need side walks. I seriously think it is time to pound the for sale sign in the ground and move out of this tax and spend city.

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