Whitewater Common Council dips toes into city’s water issues

water2By JAMES KATES, Capstone Managing Editor

Water – purifying it, conserving it and preventing it from going where it shouldn’t – dominated the agenda for the Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday.

The council agreed to request a quote from engineering firm Strand Associates to do a stormwater mitigation study. The action follows a string of complaints from Whitewater residents about flooded streets and basements after heavy rains.

Some residents “are having significant flooding in their basements on a regular basis,” said Councilmember Lynn Binnie, who added that Woodland Drive in his west-side district is a major problem area.

Streets Superintendent Chuck Nass agreed that Woodland Drive is “one of the worst areas in the city” and also cited flooding around the Home Lumber Co. on the city’s south side.

Law may be inadequate

Nass said the city’s ordinance governing stormwater abatement for new construction may need to be tightened.

Builders are obeying the existing law, but larger pipes and culverts are needed to clear away water, he said.

In a related action, the council also reminded citizens that smoke testing of city sewers would begin next Monday.

Workers will pump non-toxic, odor-free synthetic smoke into the sewers. The testing will occur on the west side of the city in an area bounded by Peninsula Lane on the north and Walworth Avenue on the south.

The test will indicate where water is entering the system where it shouldn’t – for example, from sump-pump drains or gutter downspouts. Too much water from improper sources can overload the sewers and – in the worst case – force an illegal discharge of untreated sewage into creeks during heavy rains.

Smoke should appear during the test only from vent stacks. Anyone noticing smoke from other sources is asked to call the city.

Before the tests, “Folks are urged to pour water down drains they don’t ordinarily use,” such as basement floor drains, to fill the trap and prevent smoke from entering, City Manager Cameron Clapper said.

Software can monitor usage

In a high-tech twist on the water issue, the council approved a $500 contract with H2Oscore for software to monitor water usage.

The software will allow any city water customer to view an Internet “dashboard” tracking their water use, said McGee Young, a Marquette University political science professor who developed the program. Use is voluntary.

Young and faculty from several other schools, including UW-Whitewater, have been refining the software for more than a year. It is already in place in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Grafton.

“This shows how we can build stronger communities by promoting sustainability,” Young said.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Heard from Clapper about development of the city budget, which takes effect Jan. 1.

Clapper estimated the valuation of properties in Whitewater for tax purposes at $625.8 million for the coming year, up 1.3 percent. City financial analyst Molly Parrish also told the council that a five-year slide in property values appeared to be leveling off.

Nonetheless, Clapper said the city is relying too much on state shared revenue, because state law limits the city from raising property taxes any more than the rate of new construction.

State and federal money accounts for two-thirds of Whitewater’s spending, and overall city spending in inflation-adjusted dollars is less than it was in 2003, Parrish said.

Parrish’s full analysis is available on the city Web site, under the “Finance” tab.

Clapper will deliver a proposed budget to the Common Council on Oct. 1, and the goal is to approve the plan on Nov. 19 after several meetings.

  • Approved a letter of intent with Trane Inc. to have the company audit the city’s heating, ventilating and air-conditioning operations and serve as a contractor for new systems that would save energy.
  • Voted to eliminate four 15-minute parking spaces, two on either side of First Street just south of Main Street, making them regular two-hour spaces instead.
  •  Approved the transfer of a Class B liquor license at the Downstairs Sports Bar and Grill, 204 W. Main St., to Semavi Vedziovski, doing business as Day N Nite Inc.