NORMAN — Norman voters may soon decide whether Norman city leadership can be trusted to control future utility rates, which include water, wastewater and trash. The Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to recommend the removal of a charter provision requiring voter approval for all utility rate increases in Norman.
“We know for a fact that this is going to be a politically charged discussion,” said Carol Dillingham, Charter Review Commission member and former city council member. Many of the commission members are former council members, city mayors, or have served the city on various other committees.
Norman is the only city in the state that requires a popular vote before increasing utility rates. If the requirement is removed from the city charter, the city council would still approve any rate increase.
“It costs us money to keep this charter condition,” said Commission Vice Chair Doug Cubberly. “The cost is in deferred maintenance, and the cost is in bonds and in higher rates we have to pay on bonds. It doesn’t make sense.”
City Finance Director Anthony Francisco said the requirement for voter approval of utility rate increases forces the city to pay a higher bond rate of about one-half percent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but on large capital improvement projects dealing with millions of dollars, that half-percent is costly.
An additional cost is the expense of the election for the rate increase approval.
Dillingham said if the city council did not behave responsibly in approving rate increases, voters still have the power to vote those council members out of office.
“Sometimes we may not have the luxury of time for elections,” said Ken McBride. He said he doesn’t want to turn Norman into a retail purchaser of water.
“I don’t think we need this charter provision,” McBride said. “The circumstances that gave rise to this provision no longer exist.”