Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak. Mayor Jeff Scrima made his referral during Tuesday's Common Council meeting.
Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima plans to ask the Finance Committee tonight to begin discussing and developing a city policy to place any project of $50 million or more to a referendum.
In addition to having the Finance Committee state whether it is for or against such a referendum, Scrima wants the Finance Committee members provide a rationale for their recommendations. Scrima also is asking for a recommendation within one month.
“In these times, the citizens in Waukesha deserve financial stability,” Scrima said. “I believe that the citizens know best how to spend their own money. … In these economic times, the citizens deserve financial responsibility.
“If the city is going to do a project that in total costs over $50 million, which will cause the citizens significant extra expense, they should be able to weigh in on that specific project, since they will be paying the bill.”
Wisconsin state law already provides an opportunity for citizens to ask for a referendum by presenting petitions of 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
If Scrima is successful with putting projects of $50 million or more on the referendum, it would be his intention to have the city’s future water supply project go to referendum.
Scrima, when asked, was unable to provide specifics about any other project the city is looking at spending more than $50 million. He did state that infrastructure projects in the city could reach tens of million dollars.
“It would apply to the water and any other project that would cost the citizens over $50 million,” Scrima said.
The Waukesha Water Utility is estimating that capitol construction costs to receive Lake Michigan water is $164 million. As the city is under at June 2018 to address the radium levels in its water supply, Lake Michigan is the least expensive alternative identified by the city.
“There is no cheap alternative,” Waukesha Water Utility General Manager Dan Duchniak said. “… Any other option is more expensive than that.”
Duchniak said if the proposal moved forward, he would be prepared to ask for an exception to the future water supply project.
The issue of public health and welfare is too important to politicized, Duchniak said, and creating a referendum would become costly. Duchniak noted the future water supply has been studied in depth for more than eight years.
“I would hate for this to get lost in politics,” he said.
A referendum would bring forward special interest groups that could end up costing the city additional money in an already expensive process, Duchniak said.
“It is not a simple issue,” Duchniak said. “It is not a simple solution.”