Rate Increases Likely for Tulsa Water, Sewer and Stormwater

Apr 19, 2017

Credit KWGS News

City of Tulsa water and sewer rates are set to increase again this year, and stormwater rates will likely go up, too, after no increase last year.

The city water and sewer department said those rates need to go up 5 and 9 percent to keep up with the cost of maintaining the systems.

Because of less spending and more revenue this fiscal year, the department had more money to put into its capital fund. Department rate modeler Eric Lee said that helps defer rate increases.

"So, there's still a rate increase, which we need, but it's just not as high as originally projected," Lee said.

A 6 percent water rate increase was initially expected. The average household bill would go up $5.37 a month if the city council approves the increases.

Lee said a recently instituted data-driven approach to scheduling system repairs will help hold down future increases.

"It looks like 4 percent on water for the next couple of years and then dropping to 3 percent, getting closer to what inflation would be," Lee said. "Sewer's a little bit different. The 9 percent rate increases look like they'll extend over the next four years, with reductions happening into the fifth and sixth years."

The water and sewer department plans for annual capital costs of around $100 million to prevent more costly problems down the road.

An advisory board has recommended increasing City of Tulsa stormwater rates 27 percent on July 1. It sounds dramatic, but the difference would be a $1.74 per month for a household.

City Engineer Paul Zachary said the 1,200 mile storm sewer and related facilities are critical for preventing flooding, and policy changes mean money to maintain and improve it can no longer come from sales tax or bond issues.

"We have to generate that money either through rates or we do some level of borrowing, and there's a balance there," Zachary said. "We don't want to swing so far to where we debt service and for generations are paying for the work."

The recommended scenario also increases the stormwater rate another 16 percent next year. The funding would help department move to a more efficient data-driven management plan.