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Village Council

Council eyes strategies for utility bill relief

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At their April 16 meeting, Village Council members heard a report on ways Village government could offer relief to local residents struggling to pay utility bills. These strategies include reducing current rates and implementing a utility round-up program, in which villagers who choose to do so pay a rounded-up amount on their bills, donating the extra to those villagers who need financial help paying theirs.

“There’s a lot to consider, options opening up,” Council President Brian Housh said in response to the presentation from Council member Lisa Kreeger. While the topic was discussion only and no votes were taken, Council members appeared appreciative of the report and the work accomplished so far and agreed to continue the discussion next month.

According to Kreeger, her report was an update to a February Council discussion on the need for Council to address villagers’ struggles with local affordability, specifically regarding utility bills. In the past few years, the Village has hiked utility fees substantially, a situation that has intensified concerns about the rising cost of living in Yellow Springs. Council this year made affordability its number one goal.

According to Kreeger, the recently formed Finance Advisory Committee has met several times since the February meeting to identify options for addressing some villagers’ difficulty paying utility bills. The group is recommending a multi-pronged approach to addressing the problem.

Financial Advisory Committee members are Kreeger, Housh and Village Manager Patti Bates. While Finance Director Melissa Dodd was a member, she has since left the Village.

First, the group recommends that the Village reduce residential customer electric rates by not charging for the first 50 kilowatt-hours of electric use monthly, a reduction of about 8.6 percent for a two-person household, and 4.3 percent for a household of four or more. The average two-person household uses about 580 kwh monthly, she said. For a two-person household, the average monthly bill would drop by about $5.50, or about $60 yearly.

This change would reduce revenues into the Village electric fund budget by about $118,500 yearly, according to the report. However, the drop seems sustainable given that currently the electric operating fund has a surplus balance of about $2.5 million and the electrical capitol improvement fund has a surplus balance of $537,918. According to Kreeger, the recommendations also take into account the upcoming cost of a third Village electrical circuit, which Village leaders have identified as necessary for the development of new industry, such as Cresco Labs.

As part of this recommendation, the group encouraged the Village to introduce a tiered system of billing that offers lower costs for those who are taking actions to conserve electricity.

In its second recommendation, the group recommends that the Village initiate a Round-up Program, with the options of either rounding up their utility payment to the next dollar, or writing in a contribution of a larger amount. The program would be voluntary, and some villagers have already communicated their support, Kreeger said.

“I’ve heard from a couple of people who said, ‘I’ll write in $20 a month,’” she said.

Former Village Finance Director Melissa Dodd estimated that revenue from a round-up program could be about $1,115 monthly if all households opt in. However, with an estimate of 50 percent of local households opting in, the monthly round-up revenue amount drops to less than $600 monthly. The Village utility office estimates that about five families monthly need $250 for utility payments, adding up to a need of about $1,250 per month.

“This demonstrates the need for a “write-in option” to generate funds that match needs,” the report states.

As part of the committee’s first recommendation of reduced rates, it also suggested that a current 5 percent late fee for the first late utility payment be eliminated, and that the Village’s current practice of notifying a renter’s landlord of the situation after an initial notice of a late utility payment be postponed to the second notification.

“The tenant/landlord relationship is very important and the first notification has the potential to erode that relationship,” the document states. “Postponing notice gives the tenant the opportunity to pay a bill that was simply overlooked in error or a bit of privacy with the opportunity to get back on track.”

The committee also recommends that after these initial steps are taken, that Council consider other strategies to address the utility bill/affordability issue.

“We can look at other options once we stop the pain,” Kreeger said.

More information is needed on local nonprofits that might serve in an administrative role for the round-up program, according to Council members, who also asked for collaboration with the Village Energy Board in identifying a tiered-rate structure that rewards those who conserve on electricity use. Kreeger agreed to return with more information at a May Council meeting.

Other items on Council’s April 16 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.

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Council eyes strategies for utility bill relief

by Diane Chiddister