Input sought on city water
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2013
2/11/13 at 8:09 AM
The Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority has spent the last three years working to ensure that the city's water and wastewater systems run smoothly - and at an affordable cost - for the next generation and beyond.
Before the authority implements its plans, however, it wants to be sure it's got it right and that it hasn't missed anything.
So last week, in the offices of Consumer Logic, about 30 people - each of whom was paid $50 - sat down with a representative of Saxum communications to answer some questions about the city's water and wastewater systems.
Saxum was hired by the authority in May to help communicate to the public the challenges the city faces with its water and wastewater systems. The one-year contract pays Saxum up to $8,000 a month.
The focus group participants were asked their thoughts about rates, service, water quality, rationing, conservation and other issues.
"I think if you are serving the customers, you don't really want to make assumptions about what is important to them," said TMUA trustee Lauren Brookey.
The results of the focus group will be available in the next few weeks, at which time the TMUA board will determine whether a more comprehensive survey is needed, Brookey said.
The focus group results cannot be extrapolated to reach any broad, scientifically based conclusions but instead will give TMUA trustees and city officials a sense of residents' concerns and attitudes about the city's water and wastewater system.
"We want to include those attitudes and issues of concerns of our customers as we plan for what we think are important challenges down the road," Brookey said.
Tulsa, like cities across the country, is facing mounting costs as it works to improve and maintain its aging water system and comply with growing federal regulations.
Adding to the city's woes is its previous heavy reliance on borrowing money to address infrastructure needs, leading to soaring debt service costs.
With those issues looming, TMUA two years ago agreed to pay Infrastructure Management Group $3.4 million to assess the city's water and wastewater systems and recommend ways to effectively and efficiently provide service in the future.
Last year, the TMUA board agreed to move forward with IMG's recommendation that the authority adopt an "aggressive improvement" approach to addressing water service issues. The approach calls for the city to take a more businesslike approach to the management of its water and wastewater systems.
Since 2007, water and sewer rates have increased by an annual average of 4.8 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively, according to TMUA.
This followed a decade - ending in 2007 - in which water rates were not raised once and sewer rates were raised just three times.
Last year, the City Council approved a 7 percent increase in water rates and a 9 percent increase in sewer rates. Similar rate increases are projected for 2014.
TMUA trustees have been clear that rates will continue to increase. The challenge, they say, is to manage those increases in a way that is affordable to customers without neglecting the city's water and wastewater needs.
The next step in that process will begin in earnest next month, Brookey said, when the TMUA board is expected to sign an agreement with IMG to implement the "aggressive improvement" management approach.
"We want to make sure that as we put those plans in place we are in tune to the impact and real priorities of our rate payers," Brookey said.
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313