The Norman Transcript

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June 18, 2014

City council members vote on charter review recommendations

NORMAN — Norman City Council members approved all recommendations from the Charter Review Commission, except one, Tuesday night during a special session.

The one recommendation the council did not put on the ballot was seen as taking away voters’ rights when it comes to increasing utility rates. It was struck down 7-1, but not without much debate and discussion from city leaders and the public.

The commission recommended that city council give voters the option to remove the provision because they felt it was outdated and circumstances had changed since it was voted into the charter by the people in 1974.

The commission’s chairman, Harold Heiple, said the community had it put in the charter 20 years ago because the mayor and city council jacked up utility rates and used the funds to help pay for a police initiative. Today, Norman is the only city in Oklahoma that still votes on utility rate increases.

“The situation today is not as it was 40 years ago,” said Trey Bates, charter commission member, adding that residents should let Norman’s government take care of the city.

Bates said this will help the city provide residents basic utilities it needs.

Council member Stephen Holman asked if anything has changed that stipulates that the money collected from utilities can only be used for utility projects.

City Attorney Jeff Bryant said normally the city does not mix funds and there is some discretion, but there is nothing that says they could not use the funds for something else.

“So we could raise rates and use it for other things if we wanted to?” Holman said.

While much of the council agreed that putting the measure on the ballot would be seen as taking away a voters’ rights, there were also advantages to putting utility rate increases in the hands of the city council.

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