City to dig deeper into utility savings program

Published 9:27 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The LaGrange City Council voted unanimously to approve the funding and creation of the initial plan for a Pay As You Save program in the community.

According to information released at a city council work session on Aug. 14, similar programs have been used in other areas of the country to save residents money on utility bills by improving energy efficiency in homes. The energy efficiency upgrades would be paid back on utility bills from a portion of what the resident of the saved.

The money used to develop the program will come from the city’s community development fund, which typically funds projects like DASH. The money in the fund is from a federal grant, and it is designated specifically for projects to benefit low and moderate-income residents. This would not involve any new funding.

“We talked last [meeting] about PAYS, that is the Pay As You Save program that would allow the opportunity for local residents, particularly low-income residents to save on their utility bills by improving some of the energy efficiency of their house,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said during the council work session. “I have confirmed through [city] lawyer [Jeff] Todd that the $50,000 planning money could be taken from the community development fund because it would be used primarily to benefit low and moderate-income residents in the community.”

Many details would need to be agreed on before the program could be implemented, but officials said that a plan for the program is a necessary first step.

“There are a lot of questions about how it would be implemented that we really can’t answer until the program is designed,” Thornton said. “Then we can look at it and see if this is something that would work, and we would have the opportunity to tweak it, potentially.”

Some of the questions that will need to be answered include how much of a difference the program will make for residents long-term, and if the program will result in any additional expenses for the city.

“Studying the program is fine, but I have some real reservations that this is going to be shown to be sufficiently beneficial to a large number of residents that will justify any ongoing expense to the city,” Council Member Tom Gore said during the work session.

LaGrange Utilities Director Patrick Bowie said at the council meeting that any additional expenses should eventually be recovered through the program.

“That money can be recovered from participants in the program as we move forward, so it would not be money spent, but money recovered at some future point in time,” Bowie said.

Even with some questions remaining, council members have discussed citizen complaints about utility bills on several occasions, and with the vote acknowledged the possible value of the project. Some council members had also heard positive feedback about the proposal from the community, which cemented the decision.

“I talked to a few people in the community, and they like it and would like to see it happen,” Council Member Jim Arrington said.

Other actions taken on Tuesday included:

  • The LaGrange City Council held a first reading on a proposal to increase the number of members on the board of planning and zoning from seven to nine. Kelsey said the increase would make it possible to receive more input on decisions. The ordinance will come before the council again on Sept. 11.
  • The council approved the rezoning of 504 Greenville Street from neighborhood commercial (C-1) to general commercial (C-3).
  • The council held a first reading on an ordinance prohibiting aggressive panhandling. The ordinance will come before the council again on Sept. 11.
  • The council approved the appointment of Luther Jones to the position of assistant municipal court judge to take the place of the late Judge David Fowler.

The LaGrange City Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.