NORMAN — Amendment hedges city’s bets
A budget amendment adopted by the Norman City Council this week hedged the city’s bets regarding the funding of two sewer plant projects. Finalizing the Fiscal Year 2013 on Tuesday, the council threw a funding bone to developers and proponents of a northside sewer plant without actually committing money to the project.
Like many other topics at Tuesday’s council meeting, public discussion was lengthy.
Prior to the night’s budget discussion, a contract with Garver LLC for design of the southside wastewater plant improvements was approved with changes that would free up money for the northside project.
The budget changes were reflected in two options presented for funding the Garver contract.
Both options allowed for $3,687,000 to be paid to Garver for the design of upgrades and the expansion of the Water Reclamation Center, the city’s existing sewer treatment plant located on the southside of town.
Option One would have appropriated $1,268,300 from the wastewater fund, which is paid by rate payers — the city’s sewer customers. In that option, the additional money was funded through the Sewer Excise Tax at just under 41 percent, or $1,500,600, with an additional 25 percent, or $918,100, coming from the Sewer Sales Tax fund.
In contrast, Option Two does not use any Sewer Sales Tax money but instead appropriates $2,186,400 from the wastewater fund. The $1,500,600 worth of funding from the Sewer Excise Tax fund remains the same. The council approved this option.
As a budget amendment, the council allotted $83,000 from the Sewer Sales Tax for the design of the North Water Reclamation Facility.
An additional $5,792,157 of Sewer Sales Tax fund is being held in reserve and was not budgeted toward any project. That money had originally been intended to help pay for the southside project, but the Norman Developers Council objected, saying a vote in 2003 had promised some of the Sewer Sales Tax money for the northside project.
By contrast, others, including current and former members of the wastewater oversight committee, said the 2003 vote gave permission but did not obligate the city to use SST funds for the northside project.
People on both sides of that debate have remained committed to their views. Some people believe it may be necessary to vote on the issue again.
In the meantime, $5.8 million in SST money is being kept in reserve, purportedly for the northside project. But while notes on the budget indicate this money is anticipated to be used toward the northside sewer plant, it is not obligated or appropriated toward that project.
The only money committed to the northside plant in this coming budget year is the $83,000 approved for engineering.
As plans for the upgrade at the southside plant move forward, the city council will look for a way to pay that bill. Utilities Director Ken Komiske has said voters will need to approve a rate hike to make the improvements and meet pending Department of Environmental Quality mandates because there is not enough funding to pay the full $53 million price tag.
The Garver design for the southside plant should be completed within nine months, and plans will move forward. The question city council members will have to answer at that time will include how the project will be funded.
Will they let nearly $6 million in Sewer Sales Tax sit in reserve for the future northside project, while asking sewer customers to foot a larger portion of the bill for the southside improvements?
In all likelihood, the debate of two wastewater treatment plants is far from over.
Joy Hampton 366-3539 jhampton@ normantranscript.com