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Healdsburg maintains subsidies for utility bills

By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Noting that tough economic times can be hardest on seniors and the poor, Healdsburg City Council members on Monday declined to end a discount that low-income households receive on their water and sewer bills.

“Those of us who are employed, or have other incomes are struggling,” said Vice-Mayor Gary Plass, adding that seniors on fixed incomes “are really struggling.”

On average, the 185 low-income households that participate in the discount program save about $22 a month, noted Councilman Stephen Babb, who said he was concerned about taking away the service.

“It could be the difference between fresh fruits and vegetables for a few days,” said Councilman Jim Wood. “I have a real hard time taking from the poorest of the poor.”

Among Sonoma County’s cities, only Cotati has a similar discount program. Healdsburg finance officials had recommended the city consider discontinuing the water and sewer discounts, which totalled about $48,000 in the past fiscal year.

Some of the money comes from a utility fund. However, there are legal restrictions on charging some utility users higher rates to fund discounts for others.

Most of the money used to subsidize the Healdsburg program comes from low-income housing development funds. But Finance Director Heather Ippoliti said there is not a clear justification to use the money for the utility bill discounts, since the housing funds are designed to make physical improvements to blighted properties and improve housing availability.

Plass said he didn’t necessarily agree, because the money people save on their sewer and water bills can pay for mowing the lawn, fixing their homes and preventing blight.

But other council members, including Susan Jones, said there was a need to change the way the city pays for the program and suggested the council tap into the Community Benefit Trust Fund, which has more than $745,000 in it.

That money was set aside from the sale of the old City Hall site years ago, and traditionally has funded nonprofit and community groups. In the past couple years, council members suspended the program and have been reluctant to deplete the fund further.

But on Monday the council agreed to direct staff to spend up to $50,000 from the Community Benefit pot to keep the utility discount program going.

If other sources of funds are identified — including a county program that helps low-income sewer and water users — the council may decide not to spend the entire amount.

Currently, low-income households in Healdsburg qualify for a 20 percent discount on their sewer bill and a 15 percent discount on their water bill.

Under the city’s guidelines, a household with one or two people cannot have more than $29,420 in annual income. A household with three people is limited to $37,060 per year, and a household of four, up to $44,700 annually.

Eligibility must be renewed every 12 months.

Discounts for low-income electricity users are still in effect, since state law applies differently to electric rates.





2 Responses to “Healdsburg maintains subsidies for utility bills”

  1. bear says:

    OK, so the freely elected City Council sets up a redevelopment area. Usually starting with bond financing, they make improvements (usually infrastructure) designed to attract business and jobs. As development occurs the INCREASE in property tax revenues goes back to the redevelopment agency to pay off any bonds and reinvest in the redevelopment area.

    Nobodys’ taxes are increased more than they would normally be if a property was developed. In fact, overall taxes are reduced due to the existence of new development and jobs that likely wouldn’t occur otherwise.

    Some of the other taxing entities complain that this lowers increases in their tax revenues, but without the new development their revenues wouldn’t have increased anyway. And the amounts involved are relatively small when compared to the entire tax base.

    I don’t particularly approve of any subsidies for private development – sounds like socialist corporate welfare to me. But nothing compared to the giveaways brought on by Prop 13. The first thing I would do is eliminate the parts of Prop. 13 that provide welfare to commercial and industrial property owners. In other words, get rid of giant tax loopholes, then worry about the small stuff.

    But no less a conservative than Jerry Brown thinks Sacramento is entitled to every penny it can grab from local taxes. So he proposes to eliminate all redevelopment projects, setting the stage for endless years of attorney fees and possible default on redevelopment bonds across the state.

    But no problem, since it was a Democratic legislature’s failure to deal with rising residential property taxes that gave us Prop. 13 during his last administration.

    I see nothing in the US Constitution that gives voters the right to approve or overturn taxes of any kind. Who would vote for ANY taxes? This is the job of the legislative branch, who can be kicked out of office at any time.

    Don’t know what the problem is with tax-funded police stations. What are the poor cops supposed to do, work from home? House prisoners in their spare bedrooms? At least I know that if I get busted, I’ll be taken to a modern facility – not a Middle Ages dungeon.

    I think business probably likes strong and fair law enforcement and the facilities it requires.

    As for the pittance spent on utility subsidies, what would Jesus do?

    But I could always be wrong.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Peter B. says:

    The Redevelopment Agencies siphon off / skim funds from the property tax revenues before those revenues are used for general government operations.

    The public has always been told, lied to actually, that those funds were then used to “fight blight” and otherwise improve a community quality.

    Now, we see, that part of those funds were first skimmed, and then used to pay for low income utility bills.

    The lies of government continue. I favor Jerry Brown’s idea to eliminate the agencies. They lied. They scammed us. There are no doubt other uses of that money which have nothing to do with “fighting blight.”

    In fact, we learned recently that a brand new police station was built somewhere with “redevelopment” money. How sweet for those cops to have brand new offices, eh?

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

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