With record low temperatures continuing to grip Norman, some residents have expressed concern over the potential increase the weather will have on the cost of utility bills.
Norman resident Carol Ann Lindley is one of many whose households have been leaving water running from their faucets to prevent their water pipes from freezing. While Lindley said none of her house’s pipes have burst, she is concerned that the continual flow will run up the family’s water bill.
“This isn’t something we’re facing at the moment, but in the next month or so we may be looking at some bigger bills,” Lindley said. “You’re having to weigh the cost of pipes breaking against knowing the extra costs are going to add up, risking whichever is more likely.”
For concerns with city utility bills, Annahlyse Meyer, chief communications officer with the City of Norman, said the city is always willing to work with residents on payment arrangements, especially for those residents who already have good payment practices established.
“This is not only for situations like extreme weather, but at any time we are more than willing to work with residents on payment arrangements,” Meyer said.
City of Norman Utilities Director Chris Mattingly said he does not anticipate the ongoing cold snap to dramatically impact residents’ water bills. Mattingly’s team went through a series of calculations that estimated an average $5 increase to water bills for residents who find themselves having to keep faucets running.
The estimation was based on residents following the city’s recommendation of having a pencil lead’s worth of water flowing from a faucet. At that rate, the faucet would produce 3 gallons per hour, resulting in approximately 75 gallons per day. Even rounding that number up to 100 gallons per day for 10 days to result in a total of an extra 1,000 gallons, Mattingly said that the cost ranged from $3.35 up to $4 or $5 depending on which water usage tier a resident was currently at for the month.
“We just extended these estimations over a 10 day period, but weather forecasts like this will end over the weekend,” Mattingly said. “So, it’s likely the impact to the bills could be less than that.”
After a pipe burst at the Norman Water Treatment Plant Thursday, the city asked residents to help conserve water by discontinuing dripping water from faucets and to avoid using appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines until normal water service is resumed.
As for electric bills, Meyer said the Oklahoma Electric Cooperative is addressing bills on a case-by-case basis and that they are allowing for more generous payment arrangements for delinquent accounts.
Brian Alford, director of corporate affairs with OG&E, said that it was too early to estimate what kind of impact the ongoing winter weather might have on utility bills. Alford added that there is a process to address situations like this with the Oklahoma Corporations Commission, which the company could consider once they had a more accurate picture of resulting costs from the weather.
“We want to better understand what these costs are before we say how they will impact customers’ bills,” Alford said. “We still have a few days left, but we still have a very cold night ahead of us and we don’t want to declare victory over this storm yet. I think we’ll still be in a somewhat strenuous position until we see the supplies of natural gas stabilize.”
Lindley said she remains hopeful that her utilities are lower than anticipated, but every added bit of financial strain puts her family back at square one with her family’s current financial situation,
Like many Oklahomans who found their jobs impacted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Lindley said she lost her job as a group fitness instructor at Norman’s Gold’s Gym. While she now works at Gold’s Gym in Moore and at Norman’s Athletic Loft gym, Lindley said that snowstorms like this prevent her from going into work.
“It’s not like we’re suffering, and we always have what we need, but we had been thinking about saving but now are making it month to month,” Lindley said. “It’s like you’re just one pipe burst away from having to figure something out.”
While the U.S. Department of Labor reported on Feb. 4 that unemployment claims were down for the 32nd consecutive week in Oklahoma, more than 30,000 Oklahomans are still filing for unemployment as the state continues to handle joblessness resulting from the pandemic.
For residents in need of assistance with utility bills, Meyer said Norman’s Thunderbird Clubhouse has Emergency Solutions Grant funding available through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development for residents facing cutoff notices. Their housing assistance line can be reached at 501-3309.
Meyer also said that the City of Norman also has funding through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act’s Community Development Block Grant for low-income residents, as well as local organizations such as the Salvation Army and the St. Thomas More University Parish and Student Center.
If residents experience burst pipes or flooding and are unable to turn off their water water supply, they can call the City of Norman Line Maintenance Division at 329-0703 between 8 a.m and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to turn the water off at the meter. For after hours and weekends, calls can be made to Police Dispatch at 321-1600.