The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By LEE REVIS
Editor, Valdez Star 

Energy credit applications for Valdez residents available Oct. 2

Program will close on Dec. 15, two weeks earlier than in past years

 

September 27, 2017



All Valdez households that pay a fuel or electric bill will be eligible to receive a $550 credit towards their winter bill - but the deadline to apply has been moved up to Dec. 15.

In years' past, the deadline to apply for the energy credit was the last business day of the year. However, people in Valdez can begin submitting applications for the credit beginning next month.

The program is not an income-based assistance program - it was originally implemented as de facto property tax rebate and as a way to fight high energy costs for all residents regardless of income.

The program requires pre-registration to be considered according to the city, which grants the one-time utility payments, typically in January of the new year.

The program has grown to benefitting 1,300 households per year according to the city council agenda statement of Sept. 5.

Brian Carlson, city finance director, said the program puts an administrative burden on his department when the matter came before council earlier this month.

Past and current councils have capped the amount of the credit at $550 to avoid having to issue 1099 statements to recipients.

While the credit is considered taxable income by the IRS, the city is not required to issue a 1099 for amounts under $600 according to Carlson.

Mayor Ruth Knight said that in the past, council members had stated they'd like to see the program discontinued, others hoping for an increase in the credit.

"We have both ends of the spectrum on the council," she said as discussions began.

Council member Chris Moulton disputed statements that the program was created as a type of tax rebate, but noted it was included as a reason to found the program to garner support from members of the council who did not favor an energy credit based on offsetting high energy costs.

"The fact of the matter is, call it whatever you want, energy costs are extremely expensive in this town," council member Jim Shirrell said, noting the program does help offset the cost of living in Valdez.

"This is a vehicle to do that," he added.

Council member Nate Smith said he sometimes questions the program and wonders if the community as a whole might better benefit by using the funds - approximately $700,000 a year - by improving Ruth Pond or Robe Lake.

Council member Lon Needles said he has spoken with voters who are experiencing hard times and he supports keeping the program at current levels.

Council member Dennis Fleming said he favored lowering the amount while council seeks other avenues to offset energy costs.

Council member Darren Reese said he also favored lowering the amount because energy costs have gone down since the program was first implemented.

Moulton said he would support the $550 payment this year due to the fact that there has been no previous discussion on changing the program outside of the yearly discussions on funding the program.

He hoped council could come up with a plan for 2019 by the first quarter of 2018.

Shirrell bristled at talks of lowering the property tax mill rate, stating that 85 cents of every property dollar collected by the city comes from oil property tax, so implementing a lower property tax only benefits the State of Alaska revenue department, who will collect the oil property tax instead of the City of Valdez.

Mayor Ruth Knight suggested looking at a City of Valdez dividend, similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend.

The council reached a consensus to begin restructuring the program during a work session at its first meeting in February.

"I don't want to be the guy who takes away $550 from every voter," Shirrell said. "Let's rock and roll."

The application process is fairly easy and to rock your credit, apply at city hall beginning next week.

Valdez Star file photo

Last year's energy assistance application form had differing deadlines than the 2017 version, which will be available beginning Oct. 2 and ending earlier than previous years, Dec. 15.

The city allows one credit per household and to apply, you will need to bring a valid ID, verification of Valdez residency and a current bill from either Copper Valley Electric Association, Crowley Fuel or North Pacific Fuel.

"...no other person may apply for an energy credit for the same dwelling," the city states in a public notice published on page 11 of this week's edition of the Valdez Star.

Residents who do not have a fuel bill are not eligible. The program is not open to businesses.

Registration is also available by mail, but applicants must have their application notarized, in addition to providing the above mentioned documentation.

Applicants that are found to owe the city money will have the amount owed deducted from the credit.

 

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