Independence approves utility rebate
All Independence Power & Light customers will receive a one-time reduction on their bills soon.
A City Council majority on Monday approved a $200 credit for all customers. For approximately 56,000 customers, that comes to $11.2 million, which will be drawn from IPL surplus funds.
As of Tuesday morning, city staff were trying to determine exactly how that credit will work – if it will be counted against an existing or future bill – City Manager Zach Walker said.
The move comes a couple weeks after the council voted to use $10.6 million, also from surplus, to pay off some IPL bonds several years early, saving a few million dollars in interest.
Two council members, Dan Hobart and Karen DeLuccie, said they believed the City Charter did not permit that specific relief for the utility customers, as it says that after necessary projects, bond payments and “reasonable accumulation of surplus,” profits shall be applied to “rate reductions.”
Both said they believed a better use of surplus funds now would be to pay off more debt early, particularly when the city will have to consider a new source of some power in the near future.
City staff did not offer an opinion either way Monday on the charter question.
“No matter how much I want my neighbors to get that credit, it’s not allowed,” DeLuccie said.
Council Member Mike Steinmeyer argued the charter also says “the powers of the city shall be liberally construed,” and given the pandemic the council could show some compassion in the form of a one-time credit without bankrupting the municipal power company.
“We have families making major financial decisions,” Steinmeyer said, adding that it saddened him that compassion was being debated.
Mike Huff, John Perkins, Brice Stewart and Mayor Eileen Weir joined Steinmeyer in approving the one-time credit.
“Voting no on this is not somehow a lack of compassion,” Hobart responded. “Fiscally, conservatively, the smart business is to save what we can to pay off what we can to buy whatever we end up buying at IPL.”
Hobart, like DeLuccie a practicing attorney, said the charter line that Steinmeyer cited doesn’t mean the council gets to “override whatever provisions you want to override.”
Huff said the council implicitly approved this ratepayer relief when it endorsed a policy last month to apply surpluses first to debt reduction and then ratepayer relief.