Lawton Water Rates Up, Residents Surprised

LAWTON Okla_ Lawton residents have been bracing themselves for rate hikes on their water bills, but as they've been checking the mail, some are being hit sooner than expected.

They're being billed for water they used in May and June, not on the rates in effect then, but at the new increased rate that went into effect on July 1st.

These residents are fuming and have let both 7News and City Hall know.

Lawton City Manager Bryan Long said he was actually caught off guard when he started receiving the complaints. In his mind, he made it perfectly clear to the council that this is how things would have to happen to ensure the city received 12 full months of revenue. Now, he's finding out people might not have quite as good of a grasp on the concept as he thought.

"Is there a communication failure on the part of the city? I would say in some areas, yes," Long said. "I think we needed to do a better job communicating that."

If you ask Lawton resident John Cameron, he'd agree. On June 30th, Cameron went outside to water his yard to give it a good soak before the rate increase kicked in on July 1st. When he opened his water bill a couple days later, he was in for a rude awakening.

"The whole month plus three days from last month is billed on the new rate," Cameron said.

He said he was confused, considering he'd been paying attention to the budget talks, and as a retired accountant, he can't understand how the city thought this was okay.

"You just feel real irritated that they're actually charging you for water you haven't used in July," Cameron said. "You wonder, 'Are they trying to pull it over your eyes and just sneak it by people?' What are they trying to do?"

So, is this an error or is it a ploy to sneak more money out of residents' pockets? Long said it's neither. It was a part of the plan all along.

"I can understand where a lot of people are confused about how consumption within one month could be applied at a rate, a new rate starting on July 1," Long said.

Long said in his mind, the point was clearly communicated to the council numerous times before they approved the budget, but ultimately, people like John Cameron feel like the city never bothered to clue them in.

"If the city council, who's supposed to be running the city, wanted to apply to the first bill in July, then they should state that and tell the people that's what's going to happen," Cameron said.

In 2009, there was a similar situation where the council ultimately forced the city to go back and refund money to customers who paid for water in the months before the rate increase took effect. Long said he could not recommend that to the council at this point, because if they gave the money back in this instance, they'd have to tack on money in another area to make up for revenue lost. Ultimately, it will be up to the council to do decide if they want to make any changes.