NORMAN, Oklahoma – Voters in Norman will decide this Tuesday, August 23 whether to implement a new fee based on how much outdoor area is covered by anything that would block water absorption.

Like much of the metro area in recent days, the City of Norman has faced periods of heavy rainfall resulting in saturated grounds and overflowing drainage systems.

A Norman resident describes the situation to News 9:

Terrill doesn’t have to go far to see the flooding in Norman, it’s typically right in front of her.

“We need more drainage, it needs updated,” she said. “Down on the corner, it’s collapsed more than once.”

Councilman Stephen Holman said the City has this storm water master plan, but no money to implement it.

“Some homes in Norman, the back of their houses are literally 10 feet away form a creek that is literally carving in and the city has no ability to help them,” Holman said.

Should it pass, this fee will be added to residents’ utility bills. The portion each property would be responsible for under the new plan is based on areal photography which will determine how much impervious area is on the owner’s plot of land. An average residential utility customer can expect to pay about $6 a month, according to the city’s website. A calculator is available which can give an estimate of the fee for any property. I picked a plot of land to illustrate.

Plot of land selected for drainage fee calculationDrainage fee calculation for plot of land

What’s in it for the city?

The City of Norman hopes to use this money as a revenue source to cover a number of expenses, including implementing stormwater management programs and maintaining city streams and creeks. There are also federal and state regulatory requirements the city could face penalties for if it does not meet.

The city does also list where it expects to direct the funds collected from this proposed new utility fee:

The stormwater utility is expected to generate $4,900,000 in the first full year. This revenue will be used for:
$1,100,000 in basic maintenance of stormwater pipeline and channel maintenance;
$1,680,000 to meet state and federal regulatory requirements for stormwater quality, street sweeping, and to reduce pollutants in Lake Thunderbird; and
$2,120,000 to enhance maintenance in neighborhoods and small-scale capital flood relief projects

So it is specifically marked for projects related to stormwater runoff, as opposed to a general fund where the money could go to any project.

Some cities across the United States already impose such fees on their residents, like Minneapolis, MN, which implemented its similar system in 2005. Chesapeake, VA, on the other hand, charges a flat rate to its utility customers, as do many other cities in the area.

As Norman is one of the most forward-thinking cities in the Oklahoma City greater metro area and the state, there is little surprise it would be one of the first local municipalities to implement this fee. However, they will not be the first. To the north, the City of Edmond charges $2 to its residential customers, and up to $100 for businesses, based on impervious area.

No doubt, one factor driving this proposed ordinance is the EPA’s regulations pertaining to water quality, but what may lead to its establishment is more personal – the hope of a better flowing drainage system that could prevent flooding to homes and businesses. After Tuesday, the people of Norman will know the result.

UPDATE: This proposed fee failed to pass on Tuesday by a wide margin of 42 points. The final vote according to the Oklahoma Election Board was 29% for and 71% against out of 16,181 votes.