By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
A program that would have provided some residents partial relief from sewer bills was put on hold Tuesday because of the City Council’s recent rejection of sewer rate increases.
The hardship program would have exempted a customer from a portion of their sewer bill based on income level.
Interim City Administrator Jessica Kinser told IOC members Tuesday that without the sewer rate increase, which the City Council voted down last week, the city’s cash flow model shows the sewer fund will have a negative cash balance through fiscal year 2019.
Exempting customers from portions of their bills would only exacerbate the cash situation, she explained.
"'How can you give money away that you don’t have?' Is kind of one of the points I was making,” she said.
Further, because council members did not enact a rate increase, Kinser said she is reviewing staffing levels in the utility billing area, with the potential for staff reductions that she will present to the City Council at its next meeting.
The review required to determine eligibility for a hardship program would not be feasible with the staff reductions, Kinser explained.
“If I make a proposal to the council that we reduce staff, I don’t know how we add on another function, another project, essentially, and still complete it in a way that’s beneficial to our customers,” Kinser said.
Committee member John Rowland said he understood delaying the hardship program, but expressed concern over the effects rates have on customers’ bills.
“I’m willing to go along with not doing the hardship policy now, but we are on a vicious cycle,
or vicious trap here. We raise rates and we make it harder and harder for the members of the community to keep up with the increases,” Rowland said.
Kinser said committee members did not need to completely ax the program, but the city needed to have a positive cash balance before it could seriously consider implementing exemptions.
“We haven’t taken care of ourselves before we can take care of others,” Kinser said.
Committee member Jennifer Graf agreed and no action was taken on the item.
“I think we have a policy that we can dust off when the time comes that we are fiscally able to, but right now it’s obvious we can’t. I say we defer this until we are more financially stable,” Graf said.