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Midwest City hikes water rates

Rick Favors opposes proposed increases to water rates during a March 26 meeting. Photo by Jeff Harrison

Council approves annual increases that will boost base rate 145% by 2028

By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon

Water rates are going up.

Midwest City leaders last week agreed to raise water rates over the next five years to fund operations and maintenance of the water system.

The city council approved increases to the base or minimum rate as well as the cost for each additional 1,000 gallons and related fees.

The minimum water rate will increase by nearly 60% this year, with annual hikes that will increase prices by 145% by 2028. Most residential customers currently pay $9.94 for the base rate, which includes up to 2,000 gallons and 5/8 water meter. That base rate will increase to $15.87 beginning May 1. The rate will jump to $18.19 (2025), $21.20 (2026), $22.83 (2027) and $24.38 (2028).

The city currently charges $4.60 for each additional 1,000 gallons of water for residential customers, which includes fees. The cost per 1,000-gallon rate will increase by 70 cents (15.2%) to $5.30 this year. It will go up by 75% to $8.05 by 2028.

The commercial rate will increase from $4.72 to $5.30 this year and to $8.05 in 2028.

The city charges a capital improvement and wastewater improvement fee for each 1,000 gallons sold above the minimum. The capital improvement charge will increase from 35 cents to 50 cents this year, and by $2 by 2028. The water system improvement fee will increase from 57 cents to $1 this year and up to $2.25 in 2028.

Other fees, including a water disconnection, meter pull and test, flush and meter tampering will also increase. The water disconnection fee will increase from $25 to $30. Public Works Director Paul Streets said the city used to turn off service to about 1,000 customers each month due to nonpayment. Since December 2020, the city now calls customers before turning off water service. That has reduced the number of cutoffs by about 50%, Streets said.

Most customers have a 5/8-inch water meter. Rates are higher for larger water meters and commercial users.

A residential customer using about 6,000 gallons per month is currently paying about $28.34. That total will increase to about $56.58 per month by 2028. The city estimates that 69% of customers will pay less than $56.68 per month by 2028, with 33% paying the minimum rate of $24.38.

Several council members were concerned about the rate increase for low-income residents and those on a fixed income.

Ward 6 councilmember Rick Favors said he has a hard time with the water rate increases. He said the city has done a terrible job of not increasing rates as needed. He asked if they could reduce the amount of the increase for this year.

“The amount that we’re trying to pass on right now hurts,” he said. “It’s going to hurt even more than what we were talking about with the sewer.”

City Clerk Sarah Hancock said the city offers assistance for residents based on income. Council members asked the city to promote assistance through multiple avenues, including inserts in the utility bills, social media, city website and others.

“The more options that we have to get our message out is better,” said Pat Byrne, councilmember. “It’s a sad deal that we have to do it but when we’re talking about cutting somebody’s water off for nonpayment, I would feel more comfortable knowing that we’ve given people every opportunity to comply.”

Ward 5 councilmember Sara Bana asked if the city could use other sales tax dollars dedicated to capital projects to pay for the meter upgrades. City Manager Tim Lyon said the sales tax could not be used for operations. Bana also asked about applying for ARPA funds through Oklahoma County. City staff said they did not believe those funds would be available for this type of project but agreed to research it further.

Midwest City’s water rates are currently well below other comparable cities in the state. Only Stillwater ($7.23) and Moore ($9.50) have lower base rates than Midwest City. And Yukon ($16.20) is the only city with a lower cost per 1,000-gallon rate.

The rate hike is necessary to fund operation and maintenance of the water system, said Streets. He said the current rates rely heavily on the variable fee based on the volume of water used by customers rather than base rate. The larger increases to the base rate will provide more stable funding, Streets said.

The additional funds will also be used to replace the city’s automated water meter system. Midwest City started installing automated meters in 2014. The meters have a lifespan of about 20 years.

The project is expected to cost about $13.1 million.

“We need to build some funds so when those meters reach their useful life, we can start replacing them,” said Carrie Evenson, Assistant Public Works Director.

The city council raised base water rates in 2016 by $1.50 with incremental increases of 50 cents each of the next four years. The rate for each 1,000 gallons above was raised by 10 cents in each category and 5 cents each of the following four years.

At the time, city staff requested an increase of more than $2.

Midwest City also implemented annual rate increases that were tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Streets says the water department budget was $1 million in the negative. He said they cut $500,000 in operations and capital needs and plugged the remaining shortage with their fund balance.

“What we’re doing here is trying to fix some of the issues that we discovered and tried to bring to the council a decade ago and get us to the point where we can pay the bills and produce and deliver that high quality water to customers,” Streets said.

Without the rate increases, Streets said they would need to continue to cut maintenance and capital needs, which could put the city at risk of not being able to provide water for the fire department or to residents. The city is also creating a water master plan that will evaluate the system and identify capital improvement projects.

The city water department is an enterprise fund which is run like a business, charges for service and must meet the costs for providing those services.

After a nearly hour-long discussion, the city council approved the rate increases by a 5-2 vote. The council also agreed to waive the disconnect fee for customers once per calendar year. Bana and Favors both voted against the proposal.

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