Senior discount on the horizon for CB water and sewer bills

Benefit based on age, tenure, physical disability and income 

[  By Mark Reaman   ]

Some residents of Crested Butte will get a discount on their water and sewer bills starting this year. The council approved an ordinance on January 18 that will give people older than 62 who have lived in their home at least the last 10 years a 50-percent discount on their monthly base service rate. The discount would also apply to permanently disabled residents and those on the lower income scale.

There was a provision in the town code that provided a rebate to people making less than $12,000 per year and while the idea was to eliminate that clause, council asked the staff to incorporate it into the new ordinance. 

“We know there are probably not a lot of people who can live here on that but if there are, we should continue to help them in this small way,” suggested councilmember Mallika Magner. No one has ever applied for that rebate.

Councilmember Beth Goldstone expressed concern with providing any discount as proposed. “I don’t like how it has worked out,” she said. “The rate increase that started the conversation was based on infrastructure needs. I’d want to keep just what we have on the books which is income qualified.”

Councilmember Mona Merrill pointed out that someone could be worth $10 million but not show income more than $12,000. That was one reason to move to the age and residency length qualifier.

Goldstone wanted to be clear that she felt the recent rate increase was made to pay for infrastructure upgrades that have been needed for a very long time. “At this time, I’m only comfortable with discounts that are based on need (i.e. income, disability, etc.) to pay for the aging infrastructure while we work to solve the overall problem of affordable living in town for everyone including those over 62,” she explained further after the meeting. “I hope to either reduce water usage and/or help keep overall base rates low, through a higher rate structure for high use of water.”

Goldstone had started a discussion in December about adjusting the number of gallons used in the water rate to discourage overuse of water. She suggested the rate should be based on 3,000 gallons of use instead of 8,000. That topic was put on hold but remains something the council wants to address in the future.

Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald said if council wanted an income qualifier included in the new ordinance, she would prefer it be tied to another assistance program such as LEAP (Colorado Low-income Energy Assistance Program) that includes income thresholds so the town would not have to be in the position of verifying someone’s income. Council agreed with that idea. 

Those seeking the discount will have to fill out an application with the town and council feels this will discourage wealthy seniors from pursuing the discount. They do not expect a tidal wave of applications so do not anticipate a major impact on the water and sewer revenue budget.

Public Works department director Shea Earley explained that the base water rate for example was based on a 1,875-square-foot house that used 8,000 gallons per month. For 2022, the town will charge $86 per month for basic water and sewer service. “The discount applies to that, but anything used over that base quantity gets charged at the regular rate,” he said.

Resident Jim Starr applauded the council for the move and said one reason there might be a need for further water and sewer infrastructure is that spec homes being built in town now came with four or five bathrooms. He also suggested staff allow some latitude in how the ordinance is applied to people and corporations depending on individual circumstances.

Council voted 6-1 to approve the ordinance at the January 18 meeting. Goldstone voted against the move.

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