Springfield business owners and residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic could soon receive a much-needed respite from their utility bills.
The Springfield City Council on Tuesday approved a utility relief program that could provide up to $1 million in rebates for business owners and up to $300,000 for residential customers.
Assistance will be capped at $3,000 per business and $500 per residential account. Many program details are still being worked out, but city officials confirmed the assistance would appear as a credit on the customer’s City Water, Light and Power account.
Funds for the program will come from CWLP’s Environmental and Regulatory Initiatives and Rebate Fund (ERIRF), which was set up to help fund future environmental projects, such as the remediation of the utility’s coal ash ponds, along with rebate programs such as this.
“(The fund has) built up to $23 million, so we’re moving in that direction,” said Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder. “I think this is definitely needed. I don’t think there’s any more justified time (in) providing that rebate assistance than today.”
The program was initially much smaller in size and scope, with the city planning to offer up to $500,000 for Springfield businesses and nothing to residential customers.
Many business owners, especially those in the bar and restaurant industry, have been hit hard by the pandemic yet have still been stuck with utility bills and few options for relief.
Some aldermen were wary of dipping into the ERIRF fund knowing it will be needed to finance future projects at the utility. But, the desire to help businesses won out.
An amendment offered by Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath and Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer doubling the business relief amount to $1 million was unanimously adopted.
“I am for it because businesses are hurting,” Hanauer said. “But I will say that this will be the last time that I will personally vote for something to come out of this fund that isn’t directly related with environmental issues.”
Residential relief was a late addition to the program, with Langfelder and CWLP officials long insisting that there were many other resources available to those struggling to pay their utilities, such as Capital Township’s assistance program and CWLP’s own Project RELIEF.
And utility officials have long told customers struggling to pay their bills to sign up for a payment plan. Chief utility engineer Doug Brown has repeatedly said that customers on payment plans would not be disconnected from service.
The residential component was added at the urging of Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner, who expressed concern that funding for existing programs was not “going to be enough to put a dent in those that are going to be seeking assistance” as the pandemic lingers on.
Langfelder offered an amendment calling for up to $100,000 in residential utility relief.
Though listed as a sponsor, Turner said she was not consulted on the amendment’s drafting, saying that the number was “a bit low for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
She then offered an amendment raising the amount to $300,000. It passed 6-4 with Turner and Alds. Shawn Gregory, Andrew Proctor, Kristin DiCenso and Jim Donelan voting ‘yes’ and Langfelder casting the tie-breaking vote.
Redpath, Hanauer and Alds. John Fulgenzi and Joe McMenamin voted ‘no.’ Ward 8 Ald. Erin Conley was not present.
Langfelder said the residential relief will be a “last resort” option only available to those who have exhausted all other sources of funding.
The amended ordinance was approved 9-0, with Conley not voting.