When Chattanooga's Stormwater Regulations Board voted this summer to hike water quality fees that city residents pay each year along with their tax bills, some people protested the impact on low-income senior citizens.
Now the city government is partnering with United Way to ease that burden for seniors on the city's property tax freeze program.
City council members are expected to vote Tuesday to give $300,000 to United Way of Greater Chattanooga, which will use the money to pay the fees.
Mayor Andy Berke said in a news release that seniors on fixed incomes "can be among our most vulnerable citizens."
"As our city continues to grow, we have to remember those who see costs rise — but who don't see their incomes rising at the same time," Berke said. "This action gives more seniors more choices about where and how they will age. I'm grateful to the City Council and the United Way of Greater Chattanooga for working with us toward this goal."
Council Chairman Ken Smith added, "Growth in our community is a positive thing, but we cannot allow growth and development to place additional burdens on those citizens who simply cannot afford to keep pace with the rising cost of living. Working with the United Way to make sure that the increasing water quality fees do not become a hardship on our low income seniors is responsible, sensible, and humane."
The water quality fee pays for things like erosion control and stream monitoring. The Stormwater Regulations Board voted in June to boost the annual fee 63 percent over five years, from $115 to $184, to raise around $13 million for needed stormwater projects.
Chattanooga doesn't have authority to forgive the fee for a certain group of people, Deputy Chief of Staff Kerry Hayes told city council members Tuesday.
Partnering with United Way will "satisfy the legality of the situation," he said.
Seniors who are signed up for the property tax freeze are automatically qualified for the fee subsidy.
The property tax freeze is open to Chattanoogans aged 65 and older whose incomes are less than $38,720 and who own and live in their homes. Those who qualify won't see their property taxes increase even if tax rates rise.
Tax bills go out in October. Seniors on the program can take their bills to United Way, which will pay the full amount of the city water quality fee. Owners still are responsible to pay the property tax.
Hayes told council members that any money left over will be rolled into the next year, and United Way will deliver financial reports to the city on program outlays.
He said the city might do something to let seniors know, such as place an insert in the tax bills.
Applications for tax relief and water quality assistance are available from the Office of the City Treasurer, 101 E. 11th St., Room 100. For more information, call 423-643-7262.