By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — City leaders will ask voters to approve a wastewater rate increase in November to pay for $63 million worth of improvements to the south sewer plant. Treatment capacity will be increased by 5 million gallons per day when the three-year-long project is completed.
The most pressing need, however, is to meet Department of Environmental Quality regulations. Currently, Norman is under a consent order by the DEQ and the clock is ticking. Those DEQ requirements must be met or the city could face hefty fines and penalties. Additionally, aging equipment will be replaced.
How much of a rate increase is needed and how that increase will be applied — through a combination of base rate and charges per 1,000 gallons of treated wastewater — has not been determined.
Norman City Council members discussed the need for the rate increase Wednesday at the city’s Finance Committee meeting. City staff was directed to come back with a menu of fee increase options for discussion next month.
The current sewer fee of a $3.90 base rate plus $1.60 per 1,000 gallons of treated wastewater was established in 1996.
Other funding sources have paid for sewer lines and new service over the course of the years.
In 2001, a temporary sewer sales tax of 1/2 cent was implemented starting on Oct. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2006. Additionally, a sewer excise tax was implemented on new construction. That excise tax pays to support service to new development.
In 2001, a $5 per month sewer maintenance fee was added. That fee is used only for sewer line replacement.
The increase under consideration is likely to be sizable, but Norman’s current residential sewer rate is lower than 15 other comparable cities including Moore, Midwest City, Edmond, Enid, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Bartlesville, Ardmore, Ponca City, Stillwater, Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Dallas, Lubbock, Texas or Lawrence, Kan.
Moore and Stillwater, for example, charge about $36 for 10,000 gallons while Norman charges about $22.
The proposed rate increase is expected to come before voters on Nov. 12. To meet that deadline, the city council must put the item on the council agenda for first reading by Aug. 27 and for second reading by Sept. 10 allowing council approval just in time for notification to the county election board by Sept. 12.