On Tuesday June 21st, Burbank City Council held a regular meeting. Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony was absent.
Council passed the consent calendar 4-0 (Anthony absent), which included the adoption of a new citywide fee schedule to update development impact fees. This was an agenda item introduced and discussed by the council during their June 7th meeting. The consent calendar is a collection of agenda items that are voted on at once.
A major topic on this meeting’s agenda was the approval of $1.5 million of unused public benefit funds to create a program known as the Burbank Utility Service Subsidy (BUSS) Program. This program would attempt to offset the BWP rate increases recently approved by the city council for Burbankers who make less than 60% of Burbank’s median household income.
Discussing the program, Jeannine Edwards of Burbank Water and Power stated that the program, “will provide [qualifying] utility customers 12% off their electric services.”
“This program will be funded by $1.5 million of unused electric public benefit funds that were set aside by city council to provide financial assistance to our community during the COVID pandemic,” stated Edwards.
Throughout the pandemic, about $3.3 million has been provided to assist Burbank Water and Power customers, with $2.4 million of that money coming from state and federal relief funds and the rest coming from the city.
Currently, BWP has several payment assistance programs that attempt to assist those who have trouble paying their water and electric bills. However, most of these programs have relatively high requirements for residents to qualify for the discounts and funds allotted, including a requirement that those who receive funds make no more than 50% of Burbank’s median income.
This requirement leaves many that make above 50% of Burbank’s median income level but still have trouble affording the rates out of luck. However, the BUSS program would allow a percentage of 60% as opposed to 50%, giving more breathing rooms to Burbank families struggling with the rising costs associated with inflation.
The duration of this program depends on the number of participants per year; if there is a higher number of participants in a given year, the program will be in existence a shorter time. The opposite is true if there is a lower number of participants.
Following the presentation on the subject, council convened to discuss it’s merits.
Councilmember Nick Schultz asked, “This is going to be offering our ratepayers a break on the electric side of things. Can you speak to why it’s not applicable to water rate increases, which were higher and closer to nine percent?”
“This program is being funded by electric public benefit funds, so that money is restricted and can only be utilized for electric services,” Edward’s responded. “We also have a mechanisms for water services…to subsidize our customer’s bill.”
City council voted 4-0 (Anthony absent) to approve the use of these funds.
This program will begin on July 1st. In order to apply, one must visit Burbank Water and Power’s location at 164 W. Magnolia Blvd to sign up and complete the necessary requirements.
A video recording of this meeting and a copy of the meeting agenda can be found here.
Rather than handouts and discounts for some people, why not use the public benefit funds to build lasting public demonstration projects which is a permissible use for AB1890 funds. One possible use would be to build a hydrogen generation plant on the two acres of unused land next to BWP next to the freeway. Other possible ideas would include using the funds to remove the burned out building on that same property and building low income housing. AB1890 is pretty vague as to where the money can go. The City can use some of the money to hire a legislative analyst to produce a list of ideas other than handouts that offer nothing more than a Band-Aid to the bigger issue which is how to generate more robust jobs here. One way to make that happen is approve new business licenses and permits in 24 hours or less unless the building permit requires an engineer. Permits are not so fast in Burbank anymore. Subsidies do not fix anything, they simply ignore the underlying cause of problems.
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