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October 15, 2013

Chamber of commerce endorses ballot initiative

NORMAN — The Norman Chamber of Commerce board of directors voted unanimously on Monday to support the city’s proposed sewer rate increase. Norman voters will be asked to approve the wastewater rate increase on Nov. 12 to help pay for $63 million in upgrades at the city’s southside sewer plant.

If the proposed rate increase is approved by voters, the average water user’s bill will go up about $3.74 a month. Average commercial rates will go up by $7.39 per month. Sewer rates have not risen since 1996.

Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and city utilities director Ken Komiske spoke to board members at their monthly lunch meeting Monday at chamber offices on Gray Street. Rosenthal said the plant is running at 92 percent capacity. She called the vote “critically important.”

Rosenthal said a 2001 temporary sales tax and dedicated maintenance fee had helped the system’s 500 miles of sewer history, but now $63 million in upgrades are needed at the southside plant to meet federal wastewater requirements.

Since 2001, Komiske said, about $83 million has been spent on improvements at the plant, lift stations and on sewer lines.

The needed improvements include added capacity and odor control. It also will move the city closer to being able to reclaim treated water once state regulations allow it.

“This plan sets us up for reuse,” Rosenthal said.

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.

The proposition includes a small increase to the base rate and a small increase to the commodity or use rate. 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.

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