NORMAN — City officials want to ask Norman residents to approve a wastewater rate hike in November, but they can't agree on how much the increase should be or how it should be calculated.
Some council members say an increase to the base rate of $3.90 a month would hit the smallest users the hardest. They favor an increase in the “usage rate,” or the amount charged for every 1,000 gallons of water used.
Under the current rate structure, residents pay a base fee of $3.90 plus $1.60 per 1,000 gallons of water used.
The usage rate is calculated for each customer based on winter water use, because sewage is not metered, Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.
According to Norman's city charter, any utility rate increase must be approved by voters.
Norman has not increased its rate since 1996, Komiske said. A rate hike is necessary to help pay for improvements to the south sewer plant. The U.S. Department of Environmental Quality has mandated that improvements be made, or the city faces fines of up to $10,000 a day.
In a city council conference last week, Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said it was not a question of whether to ask for a rate hike, but rather a question of agreeing on a rate hike structure.
“It's important to keep it simple so voters understand what we are asking,” Rosenthal said. “It's important that we're all behind this, because it's important that it passes.”
The consequences of a rate hike not being approved would be dire, Councilman Jim Griffith said.
Council members Stephen Tyler Holman, Greg Heiple, Chad Williams and Robert Castleberry were among those who favored raising both the base rate and the usage rate to ensure an adequate revenue stream.
Rosenthal, Tom Kovach and Lynn Miller favor raising the usage rate, but leaving the base rate at $3.90 a month.
“There are people who conserve, who only take showers every other day because they're trying to save money,” Miller said. “I don't like to see them be the ones the rate hike hits the hardest.”
Council members said they expect the average residential bill to increase by about $3 a month, no matter how the rate hike is structured.
Komiske said the city needs $63 million in improvements to the wastewater treatment plant. Sewer excise funds would be used to cover 40 percent of the costs. Revenue bonds would need to be issued to cover the remaining costs, he said.