Low-income utility assistance coming down the line

NEWPORT — On Monday, the Newport City Council unanimously approved one of the final steps toward enacting a low-income utility assistance program that has been in the work for some time. City Manager Spencer Nebel said he hopes the city can enact it in time to be used for March’s water consumption.

As outlined in Nebel’s report, “This program will provide a 30 percent discount for both the water and wastewater base fee. Households eligible for the discount must be at or below 60 percent of Lincoln County’s median income for respective family size, as determined by the Housing and Urban Development income limits. The program will also provide a reduced rate for up to seven units for the variable costs for water and sewer for eligible households.”

Additional requirements for eligibility: the service address must be in city limits and be the applicant’s primary residence, and the applicant must be a current utility service customer of the city, be the holder or owner of the utility account and make “a good faith effort” to pay their utility bills.

Eligibility will not be denied on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, marital status, type of disability, political affiliation, sexual orientation or source of income.

Some important restrictions to note about the benefits: credits cannot be banked, saved or applied to prior usage, and any unused portion of the credits will be forfeited. In addition, the discount does not apply to the infrastructure and stormwater fee, nor can it be applied to reconnection or late fees.

If there are two meters at the same residential unit, only one may receive the discount on one of the meters. If the applicant moves from the residence for which they applied, their eligibility will cease but they may reapply at their new residence.

Before the council at their regular meeting on Jan. 7 meeting was a recommendation from Nebel to approve a contract with Community Service Consortium, which would process applications for the program, determine eligibility and then notify the city’s finance department of any eligible applicants. CSC, a state-designed community action agency, provides this same service for other cities, such as Albany and Toledo.

The city would pay a fee for the processing of each application. Nebel commented that they don’t know exactly how much each application will cost them, but “when we looked at Albany, it was about $25 an application.”

The contract up for approval would expire Dec. 31, at which point the city could extend it up to two years — without council approval at that time.

Councilor CM Hall asked if the city would be sending some notification to all bill payers that they could be eligible for the program, since the Nebel said that they can’t identify who is eligible. Nebel answered that an informational flier would be developed to send out with bills and inform users how they can apply for the program. He later indicated that this flier would be developed after the agreement with CSC was finalized and hoped it could be sent out with the next utility bill.

Councilor Beatriz Botello asked whether the information would be sent out in multiple languages, so as to reach eligible non-English speaking families. Nebel replied that he would be interested in hearing her thought on how they could best communicate that.

“We want to make sure that everyone is aware of it,” said Nebel. “And folks that are eligible are aware of how to do that.”

The motion to approve the contract passed unanimously.


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