Colorado Springs Utilities customers soon see their second utility rate increase in less than 6 months.
The City Council will hear public opinion tomorrow on a proposal to increase rates another 5% to 8% for residential customers. That's on top of a 15% increase that took effect October 1st.
CSU officials say the money's needed to keep up with growth and regulatory requirements. They say they realize this rate hike is fresh off another one back just a few months ago. But they also say, they're doing what they can to try to keep the bills low for customers.
We talked to a family of five about the possible increase. They have a net income of $2,000 a month. Their current average utility bill is $180 per month. The mother says that's already way too much. "My children don't have the adequate clothing that they need for this winter because we've been having to pay so much in utilities," says a woman we’ll call Christina.
If the rate increase is approved, it would amount to almost another $9 extra per month for the average household. "It's something we've known in our long-term planning process, that at certain points in time, and this is one of those, that we would have to make investments into additional infrastructure," says Dick Comerford, CSU’s Chief Financial Officer.
That includes paying for hiring costs, security of operations, regulatory requirements, and others. CSU says it has to pass on the higher costs because of raised federal natural gas and electricity rates. "We're doing everything possible to keep our costs as low as possible. As we look forward to new process improvements, we'll pass on every savings we can," says Comerford.
But that's no consolation for the hundreds of people who call in every day for financial assistance. For families like Christina's, the numbers simply don't add up. "I think it's going to be really unfair for families like ours that can barely afford to get by now."
The rate hike has not yet been approved by the city council. They will vote on it January 27th. If it is approved, customers can expect the increase to start in February.
If you need assistance on utilities bills, CSU says you can call 448-4800 to speak with a counselor.
There is also financial aid available to those who qualify for it. Coordinators with LEAP, or the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, say they've seen an increase of about $1,500 applications since last year. And they expect another 1,500 applicants if the rate hike passes.
If you'd like to know more about the program, you can call 1-866-HEAT HELP.
To voice your opinion about a possible utility rate increase, there is a public hearing on Tuesday at 1 p.m. at City Hall.