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May 5, 2013

Utility rate charter provision reviewed

NORMAN — A Norman charter provision that prohibits utility rate increases without a popular vote could hamper attempts to partner with other cities to bring water out of southeast Oklahoma, Charter Review Committee members said this week.

“It is crucial to our fiscal stability to fix this problem,” said committee member Carol Dillingham. “Norman cannot play in a regional economy, which is where we are headed, where we have to be headed, unless we get rid of this charter provision.”

The charter provision requires a vote of the people for any utility increases. Some say it would be impossible for Norman to build the needed partnerships if the governing body of Norman does not have the ability to adjust its rates accordingly, said Harold Heiple, Chairman of the Charter Review Committee.

For the charter provision to be changed, the committee said regulations would have to be set up so rates would be increased by a reasonable percentage, and voters wouldn’t have to fear an extreme increase in their utilities.

Most communities steadily increase their rates and it happens slowly over time, committee member Jane Abraham said.

Oklahoma City currently has a 2 percent increase a year per every five years, she said. Abraham is also the Community and Government Affairs manager for the city of Oklahoma City.

Heiple and committee member Richard Stawicki said Norman’s charter provision is currently the only one of its kind in Oklahoma.

Heiple said in 1974, there was a drug bust in Norman and when Dallas newspapers broke the story, they dubbed Norman the “drug capital of the southwest,” which didn’t sit well with the mayor. In response, the mayor decided to hire more police officers.

At that time, revenue from utilities made up most of the city budget. To pay for police officers’ salaries, the council doubled utility rates, Heiple said.

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