The Norman Transcript

August 13, 2013

Norman residents will sound off on wastewater fee increase in November at the polls

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Norman City Council members will choose among four proposed sewer rate increase options tonight.

On Monday, the council hosted a forum to gather public input. Only a handful of people attended the public meeting, and most of those residents regularly attend council meetings, have frequently voiced their opinions on the rate increase and are in communication via email and Facebook with their city council members.

The broader electorate’s opinions will not be known until voters hit the polls Nov. 12.

Monday night, no one seemed to be disputing that an increase is needed. The primary point under debate was whether to use $5.7 million currently in reserve from the temporary sewer sales tax that ran from Oct. 1, 2001, until Sept. 30, 2006.

Some say that money must be used in the future for a northside wastewater treatment plant. They point to a vote authorizing the use of that money for the plant.

Others say that the vote allows for the use but does not require the use of that money for a northside plant.

The difference in applying that money is less than 50 cents per average residential customer per month.

Four rate increase proposals are being considered, but most of them look very similar and would result in a rate increase of about $3 per average residential customer. All four proposals leave the base rate at $3.90 per month.

Norman is putting all of the rate increase on the commodity or usage side of the charge, which encourages water conservation.

But if people do a good job of conserving, it could make Norman’s ability to pay back debt less stable. That factor could mean slightly higher interest fees paid for bonds.

Reserving the $5.7 million in sewer sales tax could provide some stability and lower the interest rate a little.

All four of the proposals under consideration would raise the average household sewer bill about $3 per month, give or take 40 to 50 cents based on whether the $5.7 million in sewer sales tax is applied.

The “average” customer used to figure the cost increase is a typical customer using 3,000 gallons of water per month. For low-use residents such as a single person living alone, the increase will be very small. For larger users with big families, the bill will be higher.

Commercial rates also will increase, but residential is the heart of the business and is used as the standard to figure what is needed to fund the revenue bonds for the proposed project.

The rate increase will fund improvements at the southside water reclamation treatment plant. The project will increase capacity, replace aging infrastructure and bring the plant into compliance with Department of Environmental quality requirements.

Norman currently is under a DEQ consent order and must comply soon or face fines of $10,000 per day.

Greg and Rhonda Painter said they attended the public meeting to learn more about the proposed wastewater rate increase before the November vote. They credited Ward 7 Council member Stephen Holman for keeping them informed.

The couple is new to Norman and represents one growing demographic of people who think Norman is a great place to retire.

“We moved here a year ago from Piedmont,” Rhonda Painter said. “One of the things we wanted to do was get involved.”

She and husband, Greg, met in 1977 at Walker Tower while attending the University of Oklahoma. They married in 1981. The Painters raised their kids in Piedmont, but when their daughter attended OU a few years ago, they found themselves back in Norman.

“We missed the place,” Greg Painter said.

The Painters did a lot of listening and no public talking Monday night, but they said they will be talking to their council member.

The meeting was not televised, but more information will be made available as the November vote approaches. If the public meeting Monday night was a reflection of what can be expected at the polls, a handful of people may be deciding the future for thousands of commercial and residential sewage customers.

Joy Hampton