Program would help Carson City seniors, low income pay water bills |

Program would help Carson City seniors, low income pay water bills

A program to help Carson City seniors and low-income property owners pay their water bills is in the works.

The Utility Finance Oversight Committee on Tuesday voted to recommend the Board of Supervisors direct staff to revise city code on an existing program that no longer accepts new applicants.

That program covers about 110 people, all senior citizens, who were grandfathered in once the state stopped administering it in 2011.

It would be replaced with a new program covering qualifying seniors and low-income property owners and be paid for through donations.

Supervisors Karen Abowd and Lori Bagwell, who led a working group on the topic, presented the idea to the committee.

“One of the issues we’ve been working on as a working group is how could we meet the needs of those with low income and not harm the utility fund,” said Bagwell.

Bagwell, who sits on the board of Friends in Service Helping (FISH), was aware of similar programs at NV Energy and Southwest Gas because both use FISH to vet applicants and administer the programs.

“They both meet the needs by allowing rate payers to donate to a fund,” said Bagwell. “Why can’t we do the same thing?”

NV Energy’s program, for example, raises roughly $24,000 in four months to assist area residents, Bagwell said.

The two programs are similar but administered differently, said Jim Peckham, executive director, FISH. At NV Energy, the money all stays within the corporation which applies the donated money to each qualified account while Southwest Gas provides a lump sum to FISH which in turn pays qualified recipients’ bills.

The details of the water utility program still need to be worked out.

For example, most programs have ratepayers make donations via bill payment.

“One problem is we would need to distinguish whether someone is making an overpayment or making a donation,” said Gayle Robertson, treasurer.

Dan Yu, deputy district attorney, said he would have to determine whether FISH could be designated as the administrator or open the work to other charitable organizations as well as how the funds would be distributed if there wasn’t sufficient money for all applicants.

The Utility Finance Oversight Committee also heard updates on the 30 percent storm water rate hike and $4.88 million bond, which was approved by the supervisors in August, and on the status of the sewer, water and storm water funds.

The committee will meet next in January 2018 to talk about the Public Works budget and capital improvement requests, including discussion of a wish list of projects the city may want to tackle but doesn’t have the money to do.

“It’s an ongoing process,” said committee member Mike Bennett referring to capital improvements. “It’s a conversation we need to elevate to the public level.”