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November 14, 2013

Raising rates could be key to fixing water problem

Some city leaders express misgivings over possible political fallout

CHICKASHA —

Chickasha is facing a flood of problems when it comes to water. 

After a lengthy campaign over a capital improvements tax that inevitably resulted in the tax's renewal, the city is now tasked with a $150 million restructure of Chickasha's water system. 

Mayor Hank Ross has proposed a plan that would stretch this construction over the next 30 years, costing the city $5 million a year. This process would leave Chickasha with new pipe lines, and a revamped water treatment plant. The problem is funding. Even with the CIP renewal, the city is still over $3 million short year-to-year it would need to execute this plan. Now, the city council is on the search for funds, and Tuesday night during a workshop session they broached the topic of raising the water rate in Chickasha. 

"I said all along that if the CIP passes, it will not take care of the whole problem," said Ross. "We are putting a significant investment in our water system from this tax and we need to find the funds to fix it quicker." 

The current fiscal year budget for the next five years calls for a five percent increase in water rates each year. Ross and City Manager Stuart Fairburn agree, this isn't enough and only allows the city to maintain the service as is. 

"We are 40 percent lower in water rates than other cities," said Fairburn. "It will take a combination of CIP, tax rates and bonds to get anything done. We are trying to make up for years and years of things not being done right."

Ross proposed a 20 percent increase in water rates over the next two years, which was met with disdain from multiple council members. Ross said a 20 percent increase equates to a $5 more a month expense for the average resident. 

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