By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A storm water utility fee is the next ballot initiative on Norman’s horizon.
On Wednesday, the Norman City Council Finance Committee discussed a tiered option for charging Norman’s utility customers for handling the runoff from rain, based on the size of impervious area on a home or business.
If approved by voters, the fee would be assessed on monthly utility bills and the money would support the city’s storm water management and system maintenance.
The finance committee discussion was one in a series of talks about the need for money to boost the city’s revenue to deal with a need for new operations and maintenance for drainage, including enhanced channel maintenance, pipeline inventory and repair, and bridge repair.
Additionally, requirements are being handed down from the Department of Environmental Quality as a result of the recent TMDL study performed on Lake Thunderbird. The total maximum daily load — a pollution measurement — was required because Thunderbird is an impaired body of water and the water quality must be protected under the law.
Measures to meet new DEQ requirements as a result of that study will need to be funded, Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said.
Many cities throughout the nation already have storm water utility fees. Oklahoma City first implemented its storm water drainage fee in 1995. Stillwater created a storm water utility fee in 1997.
Storm water drainage and wastewater (sewer) drainage are two separate systems.
When residents water their lawns more than the ground can absorb or when rain runs off rooftops and driveways, it hits the street drains, culverts and drainage ditches. A network of ditches, streams and pipes carry away storm water directly into rivers and streams.
Storm water is not treated but can carry along pollutants such as phosphorus fertilizer, which Norman is currently regulating. Sediment from construction also is carried into the lake via storm water runoff.
Wastewater is what goes down the city’s drains and is flushed through the toilets. That sewage is treated at the water reclamation plant before being discharged into a river. Norman voters recently approved a rate increase to upgrade the southside water reclamation facility by a 75 percent margin.
Now, city leaders are hoping voters will see the need for the addition of a storm water utility fee.
O’Leary and City Engineer Scott Sturtz presented the proposal Wednesday. The tiered system would be the fairest, Sturtz said. Council members have looked at a variety of alternatives from a flat fee to precise measurements of impervious surface to tiers based on a category of sizes.
Under the most recent proposal, there are seven residential tiers, with the smallest being 2,000 square feet or less of impervious surface being charged $3.50 per month, or $42 annually. Tiers are staged up to the largest at 8,000 square feet at a monthly rate of $15, or $180 annually.
Impervious surface is not equivalent to home size but is measured by the size of rooftop, patios, sidewalks and driveways based on GIS measurements.
Under this proposal, the fee for commercial customers would be computed using a rate of $6 per 3,600 square feet of Equivalent Residential Unit, or ERU, an industry standard of measurement to equate nonresidential and multi-family to residential.
The proposal will be discussed in detail at an upcoming city council meeting, but city leaders say the storm water fee is badly needed.
In addition to monitoring unauthorized discharge and maintaining the storm water system, the fee would support well-drained streets and assist flood mitigation through better storm water management.
“It’s a game changer,” Council member Robert Castleberry said. “This is something we need to be doing.”
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