Senior citizen utility discount rates discussion to continue

Cove Leader-Press 

The senior citizen discount for utility services was first enacted by the Copperas Cove city council in 1986, via an ordinance approved on October 1 of that year. 
According to a copy of the ordinance obtained via an open records request, the reason for creating the senior citizen discount was “that user history by citizens 65 years of age and older for water, sewer, and garbage collection services provided by the city of Copperas Cove, Texas, has shown a lesser demand on said city services that [sic] citizens of lesser ages, meriting a lesser charge for citizen users of that age category.”
That initial discount charged senior citizens $5.90 for the first 3,000 gallons of water used and $1.95 for each 1,000 gallons thereafter each month. The sewer base rate was $3.50 plus 70 cents per 1,000 gallons each month, with a monthly fee for garbage collection of $3.75. 
The ordinance was then amended in 1987, charging a $6.45 base rate for water, with no charge for volumetric rates up to 3,000 gallons of usage, and a sewer $6.40 base rate and a charge of 40 cents per 1,000 gallons for the first 3,000 gallons. 
The next time the city council amended the senior discount occurred in September 1996, with a split vote to institute the current 20 percent discount across the board to over-65 senior citizens for all utility services. Two current city council members serving on the council at that time were on opposite sides of the split vote, with Kirby Lack voting in favor of the amendment and Charlie Youngs voting against the 20 percent discount. At that time, Youngs asked that the council consider another option, that of charging $6.40 for sewer with a 2,000-gallon exemption. 
According to the meeting agenda, at that time “the entire financial impact cannot be known for some time because it is uncertain how many customers over the age of 65 are in the system or how many man approach the city to receive a discount.”
Fast forward more than 20 years and the city council has seen the impact of today’s numbers of those receiving the senior citizen discount, with Interim City Manager Ryan Haverlah sharing in an August 7 presentation to the council that there are 1,469 accounts receiving the 20 percent discount. 
Of those 1,469 senior citizen accounts, 806, or 55 percent, use less than 4,000 gallons of water, which amounts to a total of 1,600,425 gallons of water per month. 
At the other end of the usage spectrum, 43 utility accounts use more than 23,000 gallons per month. 
For those 43 accounts alone, the city discounts 1,713,175 gallons of water on a monthly basis.
Several city council members have spoken out against the idea of users with this rate of a water volume use receiving any kind of a discount. 
Councilman Charlie Youngs was initially in favor of removing all senior citizen discounts across the board, but during the August 21 meeting suggested something different. 
“I still recommend that we put a cap on it, for all senior citizens, everyone gets 20 percent up to 4,000 gallons. Anything more than 4,000 gallons, you pay the normal rate,” said Youngs.
Councilman Dan Yancey also talked during the August 21 meeting about the high-volume water consumption by some senior citizens. 
“If you’ve got seniors that are using 30,000 gallons of water, that’s not the intent of what that discount was. That discount was there for primarily people on fixed incomes that really have a finite amount that they can spend toward utilities, and those are the people you want to help, but to take advantage of a 20 percent discount, it wouldn’t be right,” Yancey said. 
This is the second year in a row that the senior citizen discount and its legality have been discussed by the council. 
During the 2017 discussions of the senior citizen rates, the council directed the city to obtain an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office on the legality of the discount rates, and whether it is advisable to allow a specific class of citizens to be allowed to pay a discounted rate for municipal water and wastewater services. However, that has not been done as of this time.
The Copperas Cove city council did hold an executive session with the city attorney on the legality of giving discounts to utility rates at its August 21 meeting, but the council emerged from that session to take no vote or provide other information on what information it received from the city attorney. 

Copperas Cove Leader Press

2210 U.S. 190
Copperas Cove, TX 76522
Phone:(254) 547-4207