Mayor Tom Barrett says he’s open to exploring the notion of Waukesha suburbs funneling some of the property taxes from their new commercial and industrial development to Milwaukee in exchange for tapping Lake Michigan water, according to the Associated Press.
"Whether it’s water, whether it’s sharing the tax base, I think all those issues are issues that certainly create an opportunity for regional cooperation," Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's far too premature to say what the quid pro quo might be, but I think having the conversation is a good starting point."
Currently, Milwaukee is looking for money to upgrade its sewer system. And in order to prosper and compete with other economic centers in the country, southeastern Wisconsin communities must forge ties and get past old parochial jealousies, Barrett said.
After six years of negotiations, Racine agreed in 2002 to provide municipal sewer and water to neighboring Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and the Town of Caledonia.
According to Dan Finley, Waukesha County executive, the timing might be right for something such as a sewer-water swap and tax revenue sharing. It would be difficult to accomplish but, if successful, the move would usher in "a landmark change in the way the region is governed," Finley said.
Waukesha's Water Utility Director Dan Duchniak said Waukesha city officials already have met with Milwaukee and state Department of Natural Resources officials to discuss technical details of moving water from the lake to Waukesha. And according to the Waukesha Mayor, Carol Lombardi, the city would consider some kind of sharing with Milwaukee.
By law, Great Lakes water cannot now be extended to communities outside the subcontinental divide – a line that runs through eastern Waukesha County, unless they get approval from all eight Great Lakes governors and the premiers from Quebec and Ontario, Canadian provinces bordering the lakes.
But Great Lakes officials are looking into changes in that arrangement.