Early Reaction to Milwaukee’s New Lead Service Line Ordinance

Dec 13, 2016

The next time a City of Milwaukee water line bursts outside your home, expect crews to replace the lead pipes on your property and give you a bill. The Common Council approved the measure Tuesday.

It requires homeowners replace the lead pipes that deliver city water to the property - if a rupture occurs in the system outside.

The goal is to start replacing 70,000 potentially dangerous lead service lines installed before 1951 to protect children from lead exposure.

Over the last few days, the city held a flurry of gatherings to discuss the proposed ordinance, including at Humboldt Park and North Division High School.

What did residents think of requiring homeowners to help pay for the replacement of their lead water pipes?

Alderman Mark Borkowski at a recent lead in water discussion.
Credit Susan Bence

Amid repeated concerns about protecting children from lead exposure and the cost, Alderman Mark Borkowski told fellow Common Council members Tuesday, he could not support the proposal.

“I know that some other substantial questions have at least come to my attention,” Borkowski said.

For instance, Borkowski questioned whether the city should pay for the replacement of the entire service line.

Yet, in the end, the council approved the ordinance – with an amendment.

It will require the Department of Public Works to provide quarterly reports – how many lead pipes have been replaced, and are residents able to pay the required fee. The City describes it as one-third of the bill, capped at $1600.

Alderwoman Milele Coggs appreciates the amendment.

“I think the quarterly reports will help aid us to help to grow and shape this legislation. Unfortunately this is a problem we will be dealing with beyond 2017 into the future,” Coggs said.

Throughout the discussion a tall man stood within a uniformed group at the back of the gallery, “King Rick, I’m the leader of the Black Panthers in Milwaukee,’ he said.

Rick says the council vote neither surprised nor pleased him.

“I think that the taxpayers should not be on the hook for the lead and the poisoning of our people. We should not have to pay for that at all – that $1600 I disagree with that going on our taxes. We’re a poor community – we can’t afford that at all,” Rick said.

City leaders insist the ordinance is necessary and the homeowners’ fee, which can be spread over 10 years, is equitable.