Norman voters this past August turned down a combined water rate and sanitation hike package that would have given the two utility funds desperately needed revenue streams. The sanitation rate hike, to be phased in over three years, received more than 40 percent voter approval, while the water rate increase drew a 34 percent approval rating.
Those numbers, and the fact that the sanitation fund is projected to be at a deficit within three years, led the mayor and the council to bring the issue back to voters this week. If approved, utility bills would go up $2.50 per month. We believe they have made a solid case for approval and urge voters to say yes Tuesday.
The City Charter puts sanitation in an enterprise fund, meaning no General Fund revenue is used to finance the department. Norman is the only known city where voters get to set the rates they pay for utility services.
The last general rate hike came in 2004. Voters approved a $3 monthly fee for recycling services since then. The sanitation service has a high rate of customer satisfaction in its 190-square-mile service area. The transition from cans to polycarts has gone well, lowered the employee numbers and cut worker injuries, as was promised.
Landfill costs have risen considerably since the last rate hike. In 2004, it costs $73 a ton to bury our garbage. Today, it costs $112 per ton. We’re keeping recycled goods and yard waste out of the waste stream, but a customer count of nearly 35,000 keeps the landfill and fuel costs rising.
Norman residents have become accustomed to good trash service and added value with the hazardous waste days and spring and fall cleanups. Those events could be curtailed further if the proposal is turned down.
We join the Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Citizens for Norman’s Future and various civic organizations in endorsing Proposition 1.