Strasburg Town Council looks at potential water rebate program

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Town Council is set to look into a proposal that would give low-income residents a rebate on their water bills.

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Town Council is set to look into a proposal that would give low-income residents a rebate on their water bills.

During a work session on Monday, Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup unveiled a proposal that would give a $50 rebate each month to households that have paid their last 12 water bills on time and that will be eligible for Medicaid in January 2019, when Virginia expands Medicaid to cover more people.

Terndrup said that the proposal would help out the Strasburg residents who are most in need of the help.

“[The plan] I think would cover most of the minimum 2,000-gallon cost that we charge to families that are our most vulnerable and truly at the federal poverty level,” Terndrup said.

Terndrup said that funding for the plan would come from the town’s water fund contingency money, which is set at just over $100,000 for the current fiscal year.

Terndrup estimated the cost of the program at around $12,000 or $15,000 for the first year, basing the cost on an assumption that between 5 to 10 percent of all Strasburg residents are eligible for Medicaid and an estimate that there are 2,200 households in the town.

But statewide estimates of Virginia’s Medicaid population appear to show that to be an underestimate. According to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, around 1 million people are enrolled in Medicaid in Virginia, meaning that around 11 or 12 percent of the state’s population is enrolled in Medicaid.

According to a projection from the Urban Institute, that number is likely to increase to around 1.4 million people, or around 15 percent of the population, when Virginia expands Medicaid.

That would double the cost of the program from Terndrup’s estimate. Meanwhile, it is unclear how exactly Terndrup came up with the estimated cost of $12,000 to $15,000 in a year.

That number would cover the full $600 rebate of just 20 to 25 households or about 1 percent of all households.

Terndrup has not responded to requests for comment.

Still, Strasburg is a long way from implementing the program. Five Town Council members agreed on Tuesday that the town should have further discussions about the program, but they did not make any decision on whether or not the town will, in fact, operate the rebate program.

That discussion will now head to the Finance Committee, where the town will discuss the implementation of the plan in more detail.

Five members of Town Council, including Terndrup, supported moving the discussion forward, with three members opposing the move.

Town Council members Kim Bishop and Jocelyn Vena both argued that the town government should not have a role in helping low-income families, saying that that job belongs in the realm of charities and the state and federal government.

“I just don’t think town government should get involved in these issues,” Vena said.

Bishop, in an interview on Wednesday, largely echoed Vena’s sentiments.

“I’ve never been comfortable with government stepping into that role,” Bishop said.

Under Terndrup’s proposal, the water rebate program would begin to take effect during the town’s next fiscal year, which starts on July 1, 2019.

People would apply for the program between Feb. 15 and March 31.