The Canby City Council passed Resolution 1271, which increases the city's ability to assist low-income households qualify for reduced sewer rates.
The city's reduced sewer rate program, primarily aimed at helping low-income senior citizens and permanently-disabled residents, has been in place since 1980 and last was updated in 2012, but "the ever-increasing minimum wage in Oregon, (being) the basis for determining the low-income limit, has become out of date," Canby Finance Director Julie Blums said.
"Currently, we only have about 50 to 60 customers we know of who qualify for this program," Blums said. "We'll have people call who are within $100 to $200 of the income limit. We wanted to try to increase the number of people we can help and serve."
The City of Canby had been using Clackamas County's method for determining extremely-low income limits to see who qualifies for the program. For 2017, the county considers extremely-low income to be individuals with annual income of $15,700 or less, and very-low income to be individuals with income of $26,150 or less.
For a family of four, those amounts increase to $24,600 and $37,350, respectively. (There also are limits for households with two and three individuals.)
The resolution adopted by the city council changes those limits to the average of the county's requirements for very-low and extremely-low income. Now, the city will allow households — meaning all individuals living at a specific address — to qualify for reduced sewer rates if their annual income does not exceed $20,925.
For two-person families the income limit is now $23,925, for three-person families its $27,035, and $30,975 for a family of four.
"We were trying to make it possible for people who have a true desire to pay but don't have the financial wherewithal to participate," City Administrator Rick Robinson said. "We know there is some cost associated with this, but we also think that some persons who aren't paying simply because they can't pay anything — they have to choose between eating and paying — will be able to pay a lower rate and will fall under compliance. It's not a lot but it felt like a step in the right direction, and addresses (the needs of) some of the most vulnerable population in our city. I think this is a really valuable change."
The vote was unanimous, 6-0.
Blums said she also wants to find ways to market the program to customers in Canby who may not be aware that they qualify for the program, and therefore a reduced rate for sewer services.
"We don't advertise it or put it out there," Blums said. "We'll have a customer call and we ask questions to see if they qualify but it's not something (that is) ever actually marketed here. I don't know how many people (the resolution) might help out but I do know we've had several people recently who fall just (above) the $15,700 income requirement and don't quite make it."
Councilor Sarah Spoon suggested including a note in sewer bills once per year alerting customers to the existence of the program, and on a semi-regular basis reviewing the income limits to see if "they continue to make sense."
To learn more about the program, or to see if you qualify, call the City of Canby at 503-266-4021.