Copperas Cove utility assistance program taking shape
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council discussed and provided further direction regarding the city’s utility assistance donation program during the regular city council meeting Tuesday evening.
With the water and sewer base rate increases and elimination of the senior citizen discount starting Oct. 1 of this year, the council directed city staff to look into a donation assistance program for customers affected by the rate changes.
City staff drafted a program for consideration for either additional or final direction from council to then prepare into a resolution for approval by council.
“As we discussed this program initially, the primary direction from council was to create a program to address the increase in rates, primarily on the base rates for customers,” said City Manager Ryan Haverlah.
Haverlah walked the council through the initial draft of the program, with some suggestions and comments form individuals in the community.
The program would be for residential customers only, Haverlah said.
There was some discussion regarding phasing the assistance out after a certain amount of usage.
Councilmember Jay Manning pointed out that after a certain amount of usage, the bill ends up being less expensive under the new rates versus the old rates.
The breakeven point is 8,250 gallons, according to Haverlah.
Manning suggested that after 3,000 gallons, the discount/assistance should begin being phased out, which Councilmember Joann Courtland objected to.
Courtland said that she thought that amount was too low of a threshold.
Councilmember Dan Yancey asked about the original intent of the assistance program.
“If I’m not mistaken, it was to help alleviate the change particularly from the seniors when the senior discount went away,” Yancey said.
He added that the program should be geared towards helping the base rate transition should have a sunset clause.
“If we want to get into a program where we’re doing far more than that as far as actually paying somebody’s utility bills or whatever based on whatever conditions, then I think that’s a whole other program, and I think that would require a lot more depth about what kind of criteria and all this,” Yancey said. “The original intent of this was I think to be a fairly simplistic approach to help those that it really had an effect on, and so to make it easy, we’re only using the base rates because that’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about volumetric so in my mind, that’s the direction that we need to go.”
Yancey added that if somebody asks for assistance, the city doesn’t need bank statements or tax returns from applicants either.
“This should not be an ongoing program,” Yancey said. “This is a short-term adjustment whether it be three months, six months or a year. This should sunset.”
Manning explained why he mentioned volumetric usage.
“If my bill is over 8,000 gallons a month, my bill is actually going to go down, so I don’t think I should be able to go in and ask for help with the base rate when I haven’t been hurt,” Manning said.
The proposed “discount” or assistance offered would equal $13.83, or the difference between the old and new base rates for water, sewer, solid waste and the drainage fee.
Courtland pointed out that the 39.8 percent increase for the senior citizen using 2,000 gallons won’t change after 12 months.
“They’re still living on a fixed income,” Courtland said. “Or somebody is still out of work because of whatever is going on here. That part’s not going to change. I totally understand why we did what we did. We needed to flip that dynamic, but there’s got to be room to help or for other citizens to assist because we have people that want to help. They’re wanting to help, they’re wanting to donate. I just think that we could be missing an opportunity to harness the power of the citizenry to help this situation.”
Councilmember Dianne Yoho Campbell said she agreed with Courtland but wanted the city to get something in place temporarily to help customers before looking into a long-term program.
Councilmember Jack Smith he also agreed that it needed to be implemented, adding that the city won’t know what the response will be until we get it set up.
Councilmember Fred Chavez asked for clarification on the how often a customer could be eligible for assistance. During previous discussion, the council had agreed on more than once a year - specifically every six months.
The council again confirmed their consensus for every six months.
Mayor Bradi Diaz said that she didn’t feel like a timeline could be guaranteed.
“You can’t guarantee this is going to be a program for six months if the money’s not there to support it,” Diaz said.
The council agreed to have a quarterly review of the program to discuss and give direction.
When discussing the requirements, eligible customers were those who identify a need for assistance, who are in good standing with the city. If a customer’s account is delinquent and they are not on a payment plan, they are considered to not be in good standing.