Crested Butte council on board to provide “seniors” utility discount

But also excited about reworking water rates to incentivize conservation

[ By Mark Reaman ]

It appears that residents of Crested Butte older than 62 that feel the need could get a discount on their utility bill in the near future. The town council is on board to help residents of age that have lived in town at least 10 years to get a 50 percent discount on their water and sewer bills. Council is also ready to reconsider the bigger picture of water and sewer rates and perhaps redistribute how rates are applied and look at ways to charge more money to people who use more water.

For 2022, the town will charge $86 per month for basic water and sewer service. Essentially, the basic charge applies to a household using 8,000 gallons or less of water per month. Longtime Crested Butte resident Sue Navy had suggested that as the cost of living increases, seniors should get a break. Public Works director Shea Earley did some research and discovered that some communities provide such a discount, but the base water allotment in most places is between 3,000 and 4,000 gallons of use per month. He also discovered that under the current Crested Butte town code, any primary resident of Crested Butte that is disabled or older than 65 that earns less than $12,000 (exclusive of Social Security benefits) is eligible for a water and sewer rebate. Earley said he and the staff were not aware of that code provision, so assumed most residents were not aware of it either since no one was even applying for it.

“It is hard to imagine anybody could live in Crested Butte on $12,000,” noted councilmember Mallika Magner. “I was originally thinking the discount would be meant for the middle class and not the poorest of the poor who probably can’t live here these days. How do we make it so the middle class can stay in Crested Butte? I’m looking at people who are no longer working or are retired.”

But councilmember Beth Goldstone went a step further. “I am looking at it from the water usage lens and livability,” she said. “Let’s look at the whole water pricing structure differently. I am thinking we should lower the base allotment from 8,000 gallons to something closer to 3,000. I think then the people that use over the base rate amount of water should be charged a lot for that. People who use a lot of water should pay more.”

Mayor Ian Billick said that was a much bigger discussion than giving seniors a discount, but perhaps worthy of consideration.

Earley agreed. “Maybe looking at it from a holistic approach is a good idea,” he said. “But that would take a solid month or two to research and figure out.”

Billick suggested the council look at the discount issue first and he suggested that to keep it simple, the discount should apply to residents 65 years old or older who have lived in the town five or 10 years. While no means of testing would be applied, those that wanted the discount would be required to come and fill out a form and ask for the discount. “It would help people on a fixed income,” he said. “It sends a message about the importance of community and maintaining that community.”

Councilmember Anna Fenerty suggested the age for qualifying be lowered to 62 since that is a time many people start looking at finances and determining whether or not they can still afford living in Crested Butte. “Those three years between 62 and 65 can make a difference with people staying here,” she said.

As for reworking the rate structure, the council liked the idea and directed staff to come back with solid suggestions.
“Given the costs of providing water and sewer services and needed expansions we are talking about a restructuring that would be revenue-neutral,” Billick emphasized. “We would be collecting the same amount of money but shifting where the money would be coming from. The council basically wants to dis-incentivize the use of water and incentivize conservation.”
Magner asked staff to also ponder how to incentivize residents to move away from standard summer lawns to something more environmentally friendly.

Staff will investigate how best to provide the senior discount for water and sewer rates and return with a possible ordinance to that effect while looking at ways to restructure the amount people are charged for water usage.

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