COPPERAS COVE — Copperas Cove City Council voted 6-1 to approve a utility assistance program designed to help offset the impact of recent utility base rate increases adopted by the city.
Council member Joann Courtland was the only dissenting vote on the program during a meeting last Tuesday.
During discussion, Courtland asked whether the program — which would provide a total of $13.83 relief on monthly utility bills for eligible residents — goes far enough to make a meaningful impact on household budgets.
“I just worry that we’re doing this for six months and we’re going to have people that are having huge difficulty, and that (amount) ain’t gonna touch it,” Courtland said. “It just seems like … do we really believe that, one, we are going to get donations to help the people that need to be helped, and, two, that it’s really going to make an impact.”
Officials hope funding for the program will come from special donations made by residents paying their monthly bill. Solicitation for donations will be included on billing statements.
City Manager Ryan Haverlah said the program will be open to all active residential utility customers “in good standing” with the city, including accounts with an active payment plan, and residential customers with monthly billed consumption of less than 8,000 gallons.
Customers requesting assistance would need to notify Utility Administration in-person or by phone, and no documentation would be required. The initial program is to run for six months and will be re-evaluated by the council at that time.
Assistance would be in the amount of $6 for the water base rate, $6 for the sewer base rate, 83 cents for the solid waste rate and $1 for the drainage rate.
Council member Diane Campbell said while the assistance amounts may seem insignificant to some, it is a promising start.
“It’s just the first step to address our senior citizens who had a (utility bill) increase,” Campbell said. “Of course, it’s applicable to anybody, not just senior citizens, but it’s a quick response particularly, in my mind, to offset that increase.”
Haverlah told the council that a future discussion item is planned on tiered utility rates based on usage. He also noted that the Utility Administration department has improved customer service significantly.
“Having compassion for customers is something that our leadership over there is definitely improving,” the manager said. “In addition to that, we have contacts with other charitable organizations that do assist utility customers, and we provide that contact information to those customers.”
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Yancey asked Haverlah if donations to the utility assistance program could be made anonymously. Haverlah said that such payments would be a matter of public record, although any cash donations could remain anonymous.
“I would just ask that we have a robust effort in advertising on this, to try and make sure that donations are sufficient to meet the demand,” Yancey said.
For more information on the assistance program, contact the city manager’s office or the Utility Administration department.