The Woodward News

June 18, 2014

Utility rates to increase in Woodward

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Woodward utility customers will pay slightly higher bills after the city commission voted unanimously to increase water, sewerage and trash rates Monday night at the regular commission meeting.

The measure was approved in an effort to stem operational losses in all three utility departments, commissioners said.

It is the first increase in rates for Woodward utility customers in three years, according to city records.  The last increase came in 2011 when the city raised rates based on the Consumer Price Index, according to Woodward City Manager Alan Riffel.

Woodward rate payers can expect to see an across the board increase on their utility bill of about 10 percent, Riffel said.

Along with the vote Monday night to increase rates, a declaration of an emergency was also approved, allowing the rates to take effect starting with the July billing cycle, Riffel said.

So, if your utilities (water, solid waste and waste water) run about $60 per month, you can expect that bill to be around $66, Riffel said.

The increase helps defray operational losses in each utility department, which this year exceeded $800,000 combined, Riffel said. The losses are a result of past efforts to keep prices low. In recent years, the city has simply subsidized those operational costs with money from operational reserves, to keep rates low for local residents, Riffel said.

“It is never pleasant to raise rates,” Riffel said. “We are not increasing them to the level of the amount of losses of each of those departments though and this increase here helps us recoup about $500,000 of the $800,000 in operational losses.”

The water, sewerage and solid waste departments lost $300,000, $153,700 and $350,000, respectively, last year.

Based on a 5,000 gallon average use, Woodward customers pay about $6 less overall for utility rates than other cities of similar size and population, according to a rate comparison performed by the Oklahoma Municipal League.

Woodward's water rate for 5,000 gallons of use by residential customers will be $14.85 per month (11.95 for first 3,000 gallons then $1.45 for every additional 1,000 gallons), the sewer charge will be $13.20 plus .80 cents per 1,000 gallons over 10,000, and the trash pickup for single family dwellings will be $17.60 a month.

For instance, In Clinton, rate payers pay $25.95 for water, $15.57 for waste water removal and $12.12 for trash removal, however, this city has community dumpsters so the service is not curbside. Water rates in Weatherford are $20.95, sewer is $15 and trash removal is $17.50.

Customers with questions about their bill and how to conserve in order to help reduce bills can call the Woodward City Utilities Department.

In other business, commissioners took action to approve the city’s yearly contract for economic development services with the Woodward Industrial Foundation.

The Woodward industrial Foundation is a private, non-profit organization, which provides economic development services to Woodward through a contract. The Woodward industrial Foundation was instrumental to bringing Seimens Energy to Woodward as well as other ongoing projects such as the Mitchell Theater (Cinema Six).

According to LaVern Phillips, director of the foundation, several projects are underway related attracting or expanding oil and gas companies as well as wind energy companies. However, each project is ongoing and not yet ready for announcement, he said.

The City of Woodward pays the Woodward Industrial Foundation $32,000 per month for its services.

Commissioners also approved the adoption of a newly accredited policy and procedures manual for the Woodward County E-911 Communications Center.

The existing operations agreement between the City of Woodward and Woodward Public Schools was renewed with no changes to the agreement for three school resource officers. The agreement provides for the city to pay 50 percent of the pay and benefits of two of the officers and 80 percent of one of the officers, according to Riffel.

With a note of thanks to I.A.F.F. Local 2560, which is the collective bargaining unit for the fire fighters, for its willingness to work with the city regarding its budget limitations and the decision to freeze wages, Woodward Commissioners approved the final labor agreement between the city and the Union.

“I just applaud the effort of the local 2560,” said Commissioner Steve Bogdahn.

In his official report, Riffel also announced that city officials have negotiated an employee health care contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield for less than half of the increase in premium being charged by the current company, Coventry Insurance.

Earlier this year, Coventry had sent the premium bill, which had increased by 25 percent from about $1.9 million to over $2.5 million, Riffel said.

According to Riffel, the city was determined to negotiate for the same quality coverage for their employees, while reducing the premium increase.

"In a year when we were not giving wage increases, we did not wasn't to hit our employees with increased costs for insurance as well," Riffel said

The current premium for BCBS is about 11 percent higher than last year's cost, which brings the health care premiums from $1.9 million to about $2.1 million instead of the more than $2.5 million they were going to cost, Riffel said.