Lawton, Oklahoma’s New Water Bill is Higher Than City Hall Promised
Last year was a financial disaster for most Americans across this country with record high prices on everything from fuel to food to utilities. And we were not spared here in Lawton, Oklahoma.
As hindsight is closer to 20/20, it seems the inflation we experienced was both genuine in a sense of global economics, and also artificially manufactured when Wall Street saw an opportunity to boost profits.
It wasn't one or the other, it was a toxic mixture of both, and it affected everything in our lives, even our utility and water bill we get from the City of Lawton.
It was in May of 2022 that the rumors flowed out of Lawton City Hall about a utility bill hike. While rising prices were fought by all, it was understandable to most since diesel had become $6 per gallon. In fact, the price of fuel was the main reason behind the talk of a price hike.
The citizens were speaking out, complaining about a situation that nobody locally had any control or influence over. Lawton's elected officials went into damage control mode.
Up to 15% Raise for Utility Bills
In order to calm the outpouring of ire, the talking point out of City Hall became one of managing expectations. The new minimum charge would be "up to 15% higher" across the board. It was quickly voted on and approved, but not without shenanigans.
The city councilors and city manager's office were very clear on this 15%, but six months later, the simple math isn't adding up to the 15% that was so begrudgingly accepted by the citizens.
If I compare my own Lawton utility bill for December versus June - the last month prior to the price hike - it's well over the 15% our local leaders talked so specifically about.
In June, my bill was $71.12. I live alone, have no kids, and generally get billed the minimum amount every month since I think watering grass is wasteful. My last utility bill was $84.10, billed as the minimum... an increase of 18.25%.
I'm sure if you did the quick math, or used an online percentage tool, you'll find your bill is probably in that same range of percentile.
I reached out to the city to ask about this higher price hike and I ended up in contact with Joe Don Dunham, the City of Lawton Finance Director. He provided me with his breakdown of Lawton's utility bill price hike.
If you add up and compare the two sides, it's quite the increase... but in comparing my old and new bills, I cannot find any charges of my own that align with the provided numbers. That doesn't necessarily mean shenanigans are afoot in a pile of made-up numbers, they just don't add up to my personal experience.
While the numbers are different, the percentages are shockingly close. Just over 18%.
What happens when fuel comes back down?
Since fuel prices were the driving talking point when the city was pushing for an "up to 15%" increase, I asked Joe Don Dunham what could be expected in our utility bill as prices continue to come back down. He replied.
Yes, fuel costs were one of the reasons we increased fees to 15%, but it wasn’t the only reason.
We were seeing price increases in chemical & material costs as well. Those have not decreased
in price like fuel has recently.
So in short, the utility bill will not be coming down. If Lawton continues down the path we're used to, it'll be going up again either this year or next - as is the historic trend.
I followed up with a quick question about profit. I had read in an article about how the utility bill price hike would provide nearly $8-million extra in surplus reserve savings for the city, so I was curious how much of this hike was just a cash grab.
Spoiler, I got the impression this was the point at which I overstayed my welcome in this email conversation. I was provided a general breakdown of city funds.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to paint surplus reserve revenue as some kind of evil. We all aim for something similar in our own finances, which is a savings account that is there to be used for emergencies and unexpected costs - this should be the goal of every home.
Like how most municipalities are run, the goal is to make money where you can so you'll have money to spend on other things. Whether that's a new sports complex or much-needed infrastructure repairs. At the end of the day, it's up to our locally elected officials to determine whether or not the municipal government and its civil servants are being good stewards of their citizens' money.