McNamara seeks to save discounts for seniors

Water, sewer, trash fees could be income-linked

7/18/2013
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Councilman Joe McNamara says his proposal keeps seniors from losing the homestead-exemption discount.
Councilman Joe McNamara says his proposal keeps seniors from losing the homestead-exemption discount.

A top Bell administration official said Tuesday that Toledo would not have to spend extra money to start tracking the senior citizens’ discount for water and sewer service and trash collection — a discount the city now bases on information from the Lucas County Auditor’s office.

Toledo City Council reviewed a proposal by Councilman Joe McNamara that he said would prevent local senior citizens from losing the homestead-exemption discount on water, sewer, and trash collection fees now that Ohio has reinstated income limits on who qualifies for that property-tax exemption.

Under the proposed legislation, the city’s director of public utilities would be responsible for assuring that anyone who is at least 65 years old or is permanently and totally disabled gets the 25 percent discount on water and sewer rates and is charged a $5 monthly refuse-collection fee rather than $15.

Those discounts are in jeopardy for some, Mr. McNamara said, because city law ties them to eligibility for the homestead exemption. With income restrictions for that property-tax discount reinstated in Ohio’s new biennial budget, the city law needs updating to preserve the utility discounts, he said.

Under the new state budget, new applicants who make more than $30,000 a year, excluding Social Security benefits, would not qualify for the discount, which is a $25,000 reduction of the property value. All current homestead exemption recipients would be grandfathered.

“If we want to continue the policy we already have and not adopt the means test, we have to change the municipal code,” Mr. McNamara said. “If members like the means test, and feel seniors who make more than $30,000 should not get the discount, then they can vote no.”

Public Utilities Director David Welch said reviewing utility discounts would create more work for his department, but he would not need additional employees to do it.

Mr. McNamara, a Democrat, is one of seven who filed last week to run for mayor in Toledo’s Sept. 10 primary election.

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said Mayor Bell supports Mr. McNamara’s legislation. Anita Lopez, the Lucas County auditor and a Democratic candidate for mayor, said in a news conference this month she would ensure all seniors and residents with disabilities who now qualify would continue to get the discount.

Independent mayoral candidate D. Michael Collins, also a city councilman, wants to go one step further and increase the senior discount from 25 percent to 40 percent. He questioned if the city’s utilities department could take on the responsibility of tracking seniors without increasing the city budget.

Currently, the names of those eligible for the homestead exemption are collected by the county auditor and then forwarded to the city to be credited on property owners’ trash, water, and sewer bills. It is expected that only about 40 percent of the people who now qualify would qualify in the future.

In other business, council reviewed a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund a brownfield-redevelopment plan for vacant industrial and commercial land just east of the Overland Industrial Park, the former Jeep plant site in central Toledo.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.