What are we paying for?
Flooding and water pollution are city-wide problems. All eight Wards would see benefits from the proposed bond and utility fee with the aim of significantly reducing flooding and water pollution across Norman. The 33 capital improvement projects under the bond would range from repairing stormwater detention ponds to expanding channels. Projects from the utility fee would help address day-to-day maintenance and water quality improvements in Lake Thunderbird. Additional services residents will benefit from the utility fee include:
- Annual Stream Blitzes to remove debris from City-owned/accessible channels
- A Neighborhood Assistance Program to help with maintenance activities needed for privately-owned stormwater infrastructure (i.e. detention ponds, channels, etc.)
- Additional staff, including two additional Infrastructure Maintenance crews and a Capital Projects Engineer, to more efficiently manage infrastructure repair and replacement projects and apply for and manage any available grants
- Regular use of city equipment to clean storm drains and other infrastructure
- A program to install stormwater treatment systems within the Lake Thunderbird Watershed to improve water quality by removing dirt and nutrients from stormwater runoff
What is a stormwater utility fee?
A stormwater utility fee is an Enterprise Fund dedicated only for stormwater services such as the installation, operation and maintenance of infrastructure. Other utilities in Norman are Enterprise Funds, meaning that managing the utilities and their operations is paid by fees from rate payers and not from taxes. Examples include sanitation, water and wastewater utilities. Over 20 other Oklahoma cities have stormwater utility fees, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Edmond and Stillwater. If approved, the stormwater fee would show up on residents’ utility bills.
Why do we need a stormwater utility fee?
As the third largest city in Oklahoma, Norman has always been proactive and concerned about the environment. When it comes to stormwater, though, we are behind the curve, and Norman is the only large city in Oklahoma without a stormwater utility. The Committee worked hard to keep the proposed fees as low as possible given the needs.
How is the stormwater maintenance currently funded?
The City spends approximately $3 million/year from the General Fund for stormwater operations and maintenance. Since Norman does not have a stormwater utility, these activities are paid from the General Fund. As the cost of providing stormwater services increases, without a stormwater utility, other city services that are also funded from the General Fund could receive fewer funds in order to meet the stormwater needs.
How much is needed to fund the stormwater utility?
The Committee believes that a program with an annual budget of approximately $7.4 million is needed for stormwater operations and maintenance. Depending on the utility fee options residents prefer, a utility fee would help to raise a portion of the needed funds. The approximately $3 million from the General Fund would also help close the funding gap, while keeping utility fees low overall.
What is the General Fund?
The General Fund is part of the budget that pays for day-to-day operations of the City. For example, the General Fund includes public safety operations, parks maintenance and general day-to-day maintenance of our streets.
How will the new stormwater proposal provide relief to the General Fund?
If residents support the utility fee, it would create a dedicated revenue source to address stormwater issues and eliminate the need for larger contributions from the General Fund in the future.
In the City’s 2009 Storm Water Master Plan over 60 projects were identified as critical to addressing flooding and water pollution issues in Norman. In the new proposal from the Committee, a bond of $59 million was proposed as a reasonable option to fund 33 of these projects while still keeping the cost low to Norman property owners. The projects proposed for the general obligation bond will address infrastructure improvements with the aim of reducing flooding in Norman.
Why do we need a bond?
The 33 projects are a subset of the projects identified in the 2009 Storm Water Master Plan. Criteria for selection included the Ward rank of the project (the highest priority projects were selected in each Ward), location (the goal was to have at least one project per Ward. At least three in each Ward were identified), and project cost (the total cost of all of the projects could not exceed $60 million).
How were the 33 projects IN the bond identified?
What is the payment timeline for the bond?
A bond is a low-risk loan that is paid back by raising property taxes for residential and commercial properties. The bond period for the $59 million is for 20 years and is adjusted for inflation. Voters must approve the bond.
An independent committee of volunteers proposed a simple solution to a complex problem in Norman. Nothing is set in stone. The Committee is currently gathering feedback from the community on the proposed $59 million bond package for the 33 capital improvement projects and the three utility fee options. The bond is based on funding needs for 33 critical stormwater improvement projects at the lowest possible cost to the average resident. The Committee believes that the three proposed utility fee options are reasonable, affordable, and acceptable to a majority of Norman citizens and includes a 30% discount for low-income households. The Committee prioritized keeping the utility fee options reasonably low while still being able to fund additional stormwater operations and maintenance activities.
Is the proposal fair and equitable?
Why do two of the proposed flat fee options for residential customers SEEM TO benefit large homeowners more than small homeowners?
The Committee is seeking feedback on two flat-fee options: $6.25 and $5 per month. The flat fee is based on a dollar amount that the Committee believed would be reasonable, affordable and acceptable to majority of residents. The Committee prefers a $6.25 flat fee because it allows the City to do more maintenance and water quality protection projects and provide additional services needed by the community. The Committee is also seeking feedback on a three-tiered rate structure option that is based on the square footage of homes. When combined with the property tax increase associated with the GO bond, property owners of larger homes will pay more per month than those who own smaller homes.
How do I know the City will spend the money wisely and as promised?
Since the very beginning of this process, fiscal responsibility and transparency have been top priorities. Committee recommends establishing a Citizen Oversight Committee to oversee both the bond program and the stormwater utility. Additionally, the City would provide ongoing updates on budget performance and project progress through the website and during Council meetings. Because the utility fee would be supported by a dedicated Enterprise Fund, it cannot be spent on anything else other than for stormwater-related projects.
Is the stormwater utility fee actually a rain tax?
Rainwater is not stormwater. Rainwater falls directly from the sky, and stormwater runs off hard surfaces after rainfall and snowmelt. A stormwater fee is for services provided to transport runoff away from homes and businesses and to reduce the amount of pollution carried into our waterways.
Is the City paying the stormwater utility fee for all of its properties?
Under the new proposal, all city, county, state and federal entities would pay their fair share of the fee. Government properties would not qualify for any discounts or credits.
The University has its own municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit and therefore has the infrastructure in place to manage their own stormwater. The City is currently negotiating a fee similar to what was done for both water and wastewater utilities fees.
Is the University of Oklahoma paying the fee for all of its properties in Norman?
Our main source of drinking water, Lake Thunderbird, is in danger of exceeding state and federal water quality standards for pollution. The water quality in Lake Thunderbird is poor because of sediment from construction sites, agricultural practices and streambank erosion, as well as nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and pet waste. All neighborhoods in Norman contribute to the pollution that enters the Lake. Currently, the water treatment plant operates to meet federal drinking water standards. However, if we do nothing to curb the stormwater pollution entering the lake, treating our drinking water would ultimately be more expensive than the proactive solution we’re proposing.
The City increased water rates in recent years. Why do we have to pay more To clean the water at Lake Thunderbird?
Neighborhood efforts to control stormwater are certainly beneficial and contribute towards a more effective city-wide stormwater system. The proposed stormwater improvements would be an additional support to alleviate flooding and water pollution in our neighborhoods and throughout Norman. The stormwater proposal also includes a $1.25 million Neighborhood Assistance Program for repairs or upgrades to privately-owned stormwater facilities, detention basins, dams and structures.