Menominee vs. Water Works Company
In 1885 Menominee, Wis., then a small and struggling city, made an agreement with certain parties to grant them a 60-year franchise for the installation and operation of a water works system. The members of the proposed company at the same time represented to the municipal authorities that as it was only a small sized city it would be years before its consumption of water would afford sufficient revenue to make the plant a paying investment, and that before the company would install the system the city must agree to pay $50 a year for each of the hydrants installed for fire protection. The number of hydrants the company proposed to set was far beyond the needs of the municipality, but rather than that the proposed contract should fall through it was agreed that the 80 hydrants should be set and paid for at the rate demanded, while the company was to supply the city during the file of the franchise with free water for its public schools, city hall, fire department, public parks, drinking fountains for man and beast, street sprinkling and flushing sewers and gutters. After the matter had been fully discussed on both sides before the council and at mass meetings of the citizens the franchise was granted and the contract as to the free water was expressly stipulated in that franchise, as well as in the city ordinance, which was prepared by the promoters of the company. The municipality has fulfilled its part of the contract and is willing to continue to do so. The company, however, after nearly 28 years have elapsed has served the city with a notice that it has taken an indeterminate franchise under the provisions of the public utility law under which the city must pay for all the water it uses under penalty of having its municipal supply cut off. This the Menominee council flatly refuses to do until it has received orders from the highest court in the State that it must pay the company’s demand. Whatever the city is legally bound to pay it will pay. but will not give the company one cent more than what it is legally or morally entitled to receive. The company’s excuse for adopting this line is that water had been for years wasted in the Central High School—an evil that might and ought to have been easily remedied, even if the matter demanded the interference of the courts to settle it. The company took no such step nor does it take into consideration tile fact that for nearly 30 years Menominee has been paying a rental of $50 a year for 80 hydrants, when 50 hydrants would have sufficed for all its needs. That is to say: For 28 years the city has been making a present of $1,500 a year for 30 hydrants from which it derives no benefit and with which it could well dispense. So the matter stands at present, and Menominee in the courts will test a new point in the public utility law. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court of Wisconsin will uphold the law and decide that the city can be held to its side of the contract and the Menominee Water Works Company not be compelled to do its part.