By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Norman’s water production tops 4.5 billion gallons annually. That water moves through 570 miles of pipes and production runs 24 hours a day yearround.
Water shortages have been a primary topic of discussion because of the drought and low lake levels, but the lake’s level isn’t the only pool that’s decreasing. The city’s water fund pool is down, as well.
When Norman’s water, sewer and sanitation are combined, Norman has the lowest rates of any of several comparative cities.
“We’re in crisis mode,” said Council member Jim Griffith, adding that the city needs voters to approve rate increases for the services.
He also said a charter change to allow for some limited cost of living increases might be in order, too.
Water was a major topic at Tuesday’s city budget discussions, with water and funding shortages creating future challenges.
Fiscal Year 2014 water user fee revenues will fall $725,788 short of creating the targeted operating reserve. Like the general fund, the water funds operating reserve is being drawn down a little each year.
The Norman City Council discussed the city’s enterprise funds Tuesday at the non-voting study session preceding the full city council meeting. Enterprise funds include water, sanitation (trash) and water reclamation (sewer).
Emergency water purchases from Oklahoma City are budgeted at $400,000. That number could go up or down, based on how hot and dry it gets this summer.
The city anticipates purchasing $1,296,002 worth of raw water from the Central Oklahoma Master Conservancy District, the entity that manages Lake Thunderbird. This includes any water purchased as part of Del City’s allotment sale to Norman.
The FY 2014 budget also includes $429,700 for fleet-related replacement purchases.
Major water projects coming up include the Robinson Water line replacement under Interstate 35, which is budgeted at $2,297,600 for FY 2014 and $754,400 for FY 2015. A waterline relocation along State Highway 9, Chautauqua, Imhoff, Berry and Lindsey to Briggs would cost just more than $3 million.
Future projects are scheduled for 2015 and beyond, including Phase II Water Treatment Plant, Crossroads water line replacement, arsenic-related well modifications and any projects resulting from the Strategic Water Supply Plan.
Utilities Director Ken Komiske said revenues are strong during the drought, but the city is slowly drawing down reserves.
Water rates are not raised based on annual cost of living increases. All water rate increases must be approved by a vote of the people. In August 2010, a water rate increase vote failed, making the city’s last rate change approved in 2006.
Compared to other cities, Norman has low rates, falling well behind rates charged by Midwest City, Moore, Edmond, Enid, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Bartlesville, Ardmore Stillwater, Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Denton, Texas, Lubbock, Texas, and Lawrence, Kan. Ponca City’s rates are slightly below Norman’s rates.
Council members discussed whether to drill new wells or try to recover wells that are currently offline because of arsenic.
Water supply is not the only issue. Only so much raw water can be treated and when usage becomes heavy during hot summer months, the city purchases treated water from Oklahoma City to supplement what Norman can treat.
No new capital projects are slated for the sanitation fund in FY 2014. The budget includes $1.2 million for fleet-related replacement purchases. Landfill tipping fees have increased significantly over FY 2013 and will be $1.8 million in FY 2014. The ending fund balance for sanitation will be $2.1 million, falling short of the targeted $2.6 million.
Norman’s water reclamation rates have not been raised in more than 16 years. In October 2001, an additional $5 fee was added for sewer system maintenance.
A rate increase will be needed by FY 2014 to fund the South Water Reclamation Facility improvements. A vote will be required for that rate increase and should go on the November ballot.
Norman’s sewer rates are lower than any of the comparison cities previously listed for water rates, including Ponca City.
Budget talks will continue May 7 when the city council discusses capital funds. A public budget hearing May 28 will precede the council vote expected on June 11.
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