Onalaska residents could see the biggest water bill increase in a decade

Bills will increase in two phases

Business owners, residents, and anyone else who writes the check for a water bill in Onalaska could see their bill go up this fall and then again in 2016.

Onalaska officials said the water department didn’t break even last year, and this increase will cover operating costs and improve the quality of drinking water.

Kathleen Schmidt has called Onalaska home, longer than most.

“Dad built this house, 54 years ago,” Schmidt said.

Out of all of that time, one of biggest problems Schmidt said she and her dad Gerlad Haldorson have had to deal with, is the drinking water.

“Tastes like iron, tastes horrible,” Schmidt said.

She hates it so much, that to avoid it she spends about $30 each month on water bottles.

Onalaska officials now want to fix the taste of the water for everyone by installing a new $3.5 million filtration system to the well on the south side.

“We’re using their monies to upgrade our system for the long term,” Jarrod Holter, the city engineer for Onalaska said.

However, to do that and help cover operating costs, officials want to everyone to pay a little extra on their water bill. Residents would see their bill increase twice over the next two years. An average single family household who pays about $40 now will see their bill go up 10 percent to more than $44 by October 2015.

“It’s replacement of existing infrastructure, staff salaries, all the things we have to do on a daily basis,” Holter said.

It would go up again the following year by 14 percent, bringing the new rate to $51 by October 2016. That will help to reduce the high levels of minerals in the well water, and making it more usable for people like Schmidt and her father. But she admits it will be tough to see her bills change.

“It’s just too bad everything got to keep going up,” Schmidt said.

City officials held a brief public meeting over the water bill increase Tuesday. Officials asked for final approval from the state to increase the rates. While residents where welcomed to come no one did.

If all goes to plan the increase will be approved in about two weeks.