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Those 66 and older with incomes below 50% of area median qualify for reduction

Note to readers: This story was amended to reflect Councilor Glenn White's opposition to expanding sewer rate discounts beyond qualifying seniors at this point.

Troutdale City Council approved an ordinance last week to discount wastewater service rates to qualifying seniors on limited incomes by half, creating a monthly savings of $22.13.

The council unanimously approved the discount at its Tuesday, Oct. 22, meeting. The proposal was prompted by financial concerns expressed by longtime Troutdale resident Zelma Sutherland.

"She lives on Social Security, limited income," said City Manager Ray Young on Tuesday. "That's all she has, and even when bills go up $10 or $20, it comes out of her beans and rice. This savings could be very helpful to her budget."

Troutdale city staff proposed using federal Housing and Urban Development standards for Section 8 housing rules to determine eligibility. A person or family with income at or below 50% of the area median income are classified as extremely low or very low income. Staff suggested using this "objective standard, which other government agencies use for aid determination" would provide a "straightforward" way to administer the program.

The minimum age requirement for the discount is 66.

At an earlier council meeting, Young elaborated on the impetus behind the discount.

"To many citizens this may seem minor, but to a person, or persons, living on a low fixed income, it means a lot," he said.

City staff estimated that 50 to 100 households would request the rate reduction, currently representing an annual cost to the city of $13,278 to $26,556. To keep other residential rate payers from subsidizing the program, the city's General Fund would annually reimburse the sewer utility fund.

Under the proposal, an individual senior citizen taking part in the discount could receive annual income no higher than $28,000, or $32,000 for a couple.

Councilor Randy Lauer thanked Sutherland, who attended the meeting, for bringing the issue to the council's attention.

"I thought we already had (a discount) in place," he said.

In response to concerns citizens expressing that the discount extend to others with limited incomes or hardships, Young said the idea is to start small and see what works.

"There is no plan to add other categories of discounts to people at this time," he said. "Senior households are usually smaller," but pay the same rates as families with as many as 10 residents. "They're the ones paying more than their fair share, whatever that means. Also, they are past their prime working years" and thus inherently limited in income options. "So that's why we're starting with them."

Councilor Glenn White said he's "comfortable with this program, along with the rest of the council, but I am not wanting to see this expand at this time."

Responding to one citizen's concern that her regular water bill has increased, Mayor Casey Ryan explained that was a result of adjustments in recent years to compensate for years of unrealistically low water rates.

"The council made some big decisions a few years ago," he said. "There was no money in our savings accounts ... We kept our water bills way too low for way too long."

The new, adjusted water rate schedule assures that large developers like Amazon and FedEx pay sufficient system development charges (SDCs) so resident taxpayers won't be unduly burdened with business-based expansions.

"This council did some heavy lifting (regarding SDCs and other rate factors)," Ryan said. "There were some big decisions made, so that's why you're paying more than you were a few years ago."


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