PO considers low-income utility discount program

Officials are looking to implement a low-income utility discount program in Port Orchard this year, but some City Council members wonder if the relief will be enough.

The program would help offset rising utility rates that have come as a consequence of poor economic conditions paired with rising housing costs. The base rate on water, sewage and storm for local residents comes just short of $250.

The city’s finance director, Noah Crocker, presented the program to the council Jan. 24. He said the program would offset 25% of base costs to low-income customers, reducing the rate to $183. “This program is focused on the base rate only, so customers are going to continue to pay for the consumption of water based on the water tiers,” he said.

Crocker also explained who would be eligible: any household with incomes falling below 125% of the U.S. Census Department’s poverty threshold. As an example, a single person under age 65 would need to earn less than $17,621 annually. He said the income depends on the “number of people in the household and whether any of these people are under the age of eighteen. So if there are children, there are additional considerations.”

The program received a lot of support from the council, along with concerns of the program’s potential effectiveness. While Councilmember Shawn Cucciardi said the program is a step in the right direction, he believes there is more to be done. “I think the threshold for qualifying is really, really, really low,” he said, “and I think there’s other people that could benefit from this, and I would like to see us try to expand the reach of the program.”

Councilmember John Clauson agreed with Cucciardi saying the program needs to be monitored. He also said it was crucial to watch how much money would be needed from other sources for the utility to break even. “I would throw one little caveat out there that when you give away on one hand you have to take it from the other,” he said.

Others expressed concern as to how many citizens would apply for the program. Councilmember Fred Chang said he wondered if 25% was enough of a discount, but also whether the 125% threshold was low enough, hinting at the possibility of 150%. “I think we need to start it somewhere and maybe monitor it for three months and see who applies, if anyone.”

The council is expected to pick the topic back up in February. Crocker said he would like to see the program adopted and implemented by May 1.