New Marshfield utility facility gets green light
By Hub City Times staff
MARSHFIELD – By the narrowest of margins, plans for a new multi-million dollar facility for Marshfield’s public power and water utility are moving forward.
The Marshfield Common Council deadlocked on Jan. 12, and Mayor Bob McManus broke the tie with a “yes” vote, to proceed with plans to build new headquarters for Marshfield Utilities on the site of the existing office building, at 2000 South Central Avenue.
With a tax increase this year and the ongoing effects of COVID-19, Alderman Ed Wagner said the timing of the utility building project is not good.
“We always get the same story from everybody and that is, ‘Do it now because it is going to cost you more later.’ Well, yah, that’s true, but what they don’t take into consideration is not the sweet bye-and-bye, but the nasty here and now. And, the nasty here and now is our community is not doing all that well because of the pandemic,” Wagner said.
“We just asked the citizens for the biggest tax increase in 12 years, 10 years, something like that. I feel that pushing through with this project now, in the middle of the pandemic, for the sole purpose, apparently, of being able to take advantage of the contractors who are ready for work and the lower interest rates, that’s one thing; but then again at some point in time, the citizens are going to have to pay the piper,”
The Tuesday night vote allows the utility to proceed with borrowing up to $16.8 million for the 50,000 plus square-foot facility, which Utility Commission President Mike Eberl said is nearly $1 million cheaper than original estimates of $17.5 million. He also told the council the utility has been using the same headquarters since 1966, all while the customer base and electric usage have been growing for 55 years.
While the initial borrowing is $16.8 million, Alderman Ken Bargender noted that interest costs will take the total investment in the project to more than $21 million over 20 years.
The building project will be paid for through slightly higher electric bills. The average residential customer will see an increase of $4 a month. Alderman Rebecca Spiros argued that those same residents will wind up paying more, as businesses pass those increases on to their customers.
“If you look at places like the grocery stores, or anything like that, where do you think that they would recoup that five percent increase, from the customers possibly? So, residential customers will see the $4 a month increase on their bill and then, they’ll see an increase at every business that they go to in the city of Marshfield, as they try to make up for the increase on their bills,” she said.
Spiros joined Alders Wagner, Bargender, Adam Fischer, and Peter Hendler in voting against the financing for the proposed project. Alders Mike Feirer, Nick Poeschel, Quintin Rosandich, Tom Witzel, and Tom Buttke voted “yes”.
The higher electric bills won’t take effect until sometime in 2023, as the new facility goes online. Even with the higher rates figured in, Marshfield Utilities General Manager Nick Kumm said the city’s utility charges would still be among the lowest 10 percent in the state.
The city’s utility commission signed off on the borrowing on Jan. 11.
The project includes a two-story office building attached to a new garage and warehouse facility, plus ample parking for utility employees and customers.