By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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The changes, approved 6-0 with Councilwoman Sissi Bruch absent and excused, would increase the possible percentage discounts to 25 percent and 35 percent and add family size as a criterion for program eligibility, city Utilities Customer Services Manager Rick Hostetler said.
The city will make $150,000 in city funds available for the program. The city budgeted $83,000 in 2013.
Previously, qualified applicants could get either 20 percent or 30 percent off their electric utility bill, depending on their incomes, Hostetler said.
According to city figures, the average city residential customer consumes 1,300 kilowatts of electricity and pays about $104 just for electricity per month.
As of Wednesday, 239 people were receiving discounts, he said. That the number typically hovers at about 300 people per month. The greatest number in the past 12 months — 431 — was last January.
The number of past-due utility customers, who will not all be eligible for the discount program, has increased every year since 2004.
“Per month on average, we send out 2,300 past-due notices,” Hostetler said.
“When you think about it, it’s quite a lot.”
The city has about 11,000 active utility accounts, both residential and commercial.
Resident Norma Turner told the council she was glad the changes take into account family size.
“I’d like to come and say thank you tonight for your new ordinance,” said Turner, who is a regular volunteer with MANNA, or Ministry Assisting Neighbors in Need With Agape, which offers Port Angeles residents financial help on their utility bills.
Resident Merry Vandeusen also spoke in favor of the ordinance during the public hearing.
“I really urge you to pass this [in] compassion of the people who need this so badly.”
Under the old discount ordinance, residents making between $13,500 and $10,001 annually could get 20 percent monthly discounts on their electric bills, while residents making $10,000 or less in that same time period could get 30 percent discounts.
The threshold income amount was fixed, Hostetler said; it did not change as the cost of living increased.
The amended program will use the federal poverty level for a given household size to determine which discount is applied, Hostetler said, and numbers will be updated every year.
For example, this change will allow a family of four with an annual income of slightly more than $13,500 — and therefore not eligible for the discount now — to qualify under the new program, Hostetler said.
“If you had a family of four and you made $13,501 [per year], you didn’t qualify for the discount,” Hostetler said.
The new changes would qualify a household making 100 percent of the federal poverty level or less for a 35 percent monthly electric bill discount, Hostetler said.
In the four-person-household example, this would be an annual income of $23,550 or less.
A household bringing in between 101 percent and 125 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for the 25 percent discount, Hostetler added.
Fliers in next bills
Fliers explaining the expanded discount program will be sent out with upcoming utility bills, Hostetler said.
“Applications will be on the city website, or you can come into City Hall and pick one up,” he said.
Customer currently enrolled in the program will be asked for more information under the new changes and re-evaluated for eligibility.
For a full list of utility bill payment options, including contact information for help agencies, visit the city’s website at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Utilities.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.