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Duncan water rate increase depends on city council vote

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DUNCAN, Okla._For nearly a year, drought conditions have forced the city of Duncan to stay under stage three water restrictions.

Now that crisis will extend to residents this summer on their water bills. City officials say Duncan is struggling to make its annual payments for the $9.3 million rights to use Waurika Lake for city water. That's caused the city to raise water rates for all residents until enough money is generated to make an annual payment of at least $620,000 each year.

The last time Duncan raised water rates for residents was in 2011. As a new member of the Waurika Lake Conservatory District, Duncan had to pay over $600,000 a year to start chiseling away at the $9.3 million they owe. But since that original hike, the city hasn't generated any money near that figure and a lot of it has to do with none other than the drought.

"Basically over the past three years, we're down around $700,000," explained Duncan City Manager James Frieda.

The past few years have been a slippery slope for Duncan when it comes to generating enough money to pay for water.

"It's almost been a perfect storm. We in fact incurred that debt but since that time we've also initiated those water restrictions, that water conservatory program that we put in place, so our water sales are down pretty drastically for the past couple of years," explained Frieda.

It's causing money to be pulled from the city's operating fund, a budget that's having to make major cutbacks to maintenance and personnel costs to make due.

"This rate increase that we're talking about is of necessity," said Frieda.

After several weeks of discussion, the Duncan City Council will choose between two options in Tuesday night's meeting. One, a $5 surcharge is added to every water meter in the city. Or two, raise the base rate of water by $2 to just over $11 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Both plans are designed to help Duncan make that payment of $620,000 a year.

"We are the sole supplier of water in the city. However, I think it's always fair if you can to keep the rates low and pass those costs to your customers without overcharging them,” said Frieda. "It's not our intent to tax anybody, we just have a revenue crunch with the reduction of the sale of water and that's the reality."

Folks in Duncan can expect to see the increase starting in July. The silver lining of these hikes is that the city doesn't expect them to necessarily be permanent. Every eighteen months, the city will assess whether outside water sales are improving, and adjust residents' rates accordingly.

The Duncan City Council will vote on the rate increases Tuesday night at 5:15 p.m. in city council chambers. The meeting is open to the public.


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