Energy assistance program will continue for the coming year
Council directs city administration to fund program that pays utilities for residents
Valdez residents who have a residential electricity or fuel bill will receive a $550 credit again this winter after the Valdez City Council directed city administration to fund the assistance program.
The move came after funding for the program was inadvertently omitted from the city's mid-year budget adjustment.
The program is voluntary and requires pre-registration to be considered according to the city, which grants the one-time utility payments to all households in Valdez, regardless of income.
It was instituted as a de facto property tax refund to help residents offset the high cost of living in Valdez, which includes high energy costs.
Sign ups for the program typically occur in November and December.
Council directed city administration to fund the program for 2017 as a utility payment.
The agenda statement to council prepared by the city's finance director, Brian Carlson, states that to maintain the program at the past amount of $550 per household will require $715,000 in funding, which will be reallocated from an unused weatherization account and in the city's upcoming budget.
While council directed administration to budget and run the program as it has in past years, one council member and two people in the audience spoke up and asked that the program look at giving residents cash or increasing the amount of the subsidy.
Alan Crume, an Alpine Woods resident who in the past has run unsuccessfully for city office, noted that using a subsidy for bills model does not maximize savings for the consumer.
He said that allowing the subsidy to be used for energy-saving devices, Valdez consumers would see a long-term benefit from the program.
"Allow them the ability to reduce their consumption," he said.
Council member Chris Moulton said he would like to see a cash payout.
Jim Shirrell, who has twice sat on city council, said he hoped to see the subsidy increase. He noted that the reason cited for keeping the subsidy at $550 is a "false issue."
City administration in the past has asked council to keep the subsidy at $550 so that the City of Valdez can avoid the extra expense and work that would be needed to issue 1099s for federal taxes to each tax payer that receives a subsidy.
Shirrell said that taxpayers already have to claim the $550 subsidy as income and called the extra work/expense related to issuing 1099s a false issue.
"When I was on council I was very frustrated with what is a false issue," he said, and noted he hoped the amount given yearly would go up. "I encourage us to actually increase it."
He also said the city has an obligation to create economic climate that is more affordable for residents.
"This is one of the most effective ways to do that," he said.
Mayor Ruth Knight said it was too late in the game to change the program for 2017, but in the future, the program could be changed at council's direction.
Carlson's agenda statement noted that it will require about 1280 new accounts on the city's books if it required to begin issuing 1099s.