The Norman Transcript

September 11, 2013

Sewer rate increase goes to voters Nov. 12

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Norman voters will be asked to approve a wastewater rate increase on Nov. 12 to help pay for $63 million in upgrades at the city’s southside sewer plant.

Among other improvements including added capacity and odor control, the treatment facility renovation will allow the city to meet new Department of Environmental Quality requirements.

If the city does not upgrade to meet DEQ standards, Norman could face fines of $10,000 per day by the state. The city will borrow about $32 million for 15 years, according to the plan developed by city staff and the Norman City Council.

If the proposed rate increase is approved by voters, the average water user’s bill will go up about $3.74 a month.

The proposition includes a small increase to the base rate and a small increase to the commodity or use rate. Norman’s current residential sewer rates were established in 1996 and are lower than 15 other comparable cities, including Moore, Midwest City, Edmond, Enid, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Bartlesville, Ardmore, Ponca City, Stillwater, Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Dallas, Lubbock, Texas, and Lawrence, Kan.

If voters approve the rate increase, Norman’s wastewater cost still will be below average when compared to other Oklahoma cities.

The city’s current base rate is $3.90 per month. Voters will be asked to approve a $1.10 per month increase, which will raise the base rate from $3.90 to $5 monthly.

The city’s current commodity rate is $1.60 per 1,000 gallons of treated wastewater. Voters will be asked to increase the commodity rate by $1.10 per 1,000 gallons used. That will bring the commodity rate to $2.70 per 1,000 used.

By conserving water, customers can keep their sewer bills low as well as keeping their water bills low.

The city will try to borrow the money for the revenue bonds through the state’s low-interest revolving fund.

However because the project is large, it may be hard to fund all of the cost through the state.

The city will use $5.7 million in Sewer Sales Tax funds to keep the bond term to 15 years and reduce the amount of interest paid.

“It appears that there is no recognition or any kind of a senior discount for this rate increase,” resident Jacy Crosbie said.

“The city does have a low income rate for all of our utilities,” Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said.

“Who is the biggest user of water in the city? Is it commercial or is it residential?” Brian Ellis said.

Utilities Director Ken Komiske said that while individually commercial customers use more water per month, in aggregate, residential customers use more water and, therefore, sewer.

“Most of our money comes from residential customers,” Komiske said.

City council members also passed a resolution to hire an outside contractor to look at the city’s water and wastewater fees, including the sewer excise tax levied on new development.

The study also will explore using different enterprise funds — water and wastewater — to build a facility that would treat wastewater to a high degree and discharge that reclaimed water into a tributary of Lake Thunderbird. This would augment lake levels.

Thunderbird supplies about 70 percent of Norman’s drinking water.

Joy Hampton