SIOUX CITY -- Sioux City Council members on Monday said they will begin a clean process to strip away the discount that senior citizens receive on garbage collection rates.
Discussing the issue for the first time since a bill related to the issue died in the Iowa Legislature last week, the council members said their hands are tied and they don't want to risk a potential lawsuit.
"I don't want to get sued ... on something we clearly can't (legally) do," Mayor Bob Scott said.
At a Feb. 11 council meeting, City Attorney Nicole DuBois told the council the city should follow the state auditor's recommendation to end the senior discount because it puts the city at risk for a class-action age discrimination suit.
Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, last month introduced a bill to allow local governments to regulate garbage rates as they see fit. However, that bill did not make it out of committee by Friday, the deadline by which legislation must win committee approval to remain eligible for consideration this session.
Smith said she had been receiving five or six calls daily from citizens concerned about the potential elimination of Sioux City's garbage discount. The discount is used by roughly 4,200 seniors, and currently amounts to $4.58 per month off their city bill.
The council previously deferred a vote on the third reading of ordinance changes that would increase garbage collection rates, pending the outcome of Smith's legislation. They voted Monday on that element alone, approving the third and final reading of the ordinance on a 2 percent increase in garbage rates for all city residents.
Council members said they didn't want to have the 2 percent increase be confused with the separate issue of the senior discount, so they stripped that portion out of the vote at hand. Instead, Scott announced a "clean" ordinance written from scratch, solely to eliminate the discount, will come back at the next meeting on March 18.
"We're between a rock and a hard spot," Councilwoman Rhonda Capron said. "We're sick about it."
According to an August 2016 report from the state auditor's office, which was released after an investigation into the Cascade Municipal Utilities, providing discounted utility service to certain customers based on age is considered a discriminatory rate and does not comply with requirements established by section 388.6 of the Code of Iowa. The city of Sioux City hadn't become aware of the report until recently.
Pay raise advances
Additionally, the council passed the second reading of an ordinance that would increase the salaries of the mayor and council members by $2,000 each. The first reading took place on March 4, and one more reading is needed to make the raise official.
During the budget process, the council previously approved a proposal to increase salaries for the mayor and council members by 2.5 percent, which would've increased compensation for the mayor from $15,000 to $15,375 and council members from $13,000 to $13,325, beginning Jan. 1, 2020.
But before the reading of that ordinance, Councilwoman Rhonda Capron proposed an amendment that would raise the mayor's salary to $17,000 and council member salaries to $15,000, and that measure moved forward on a 3-2 vote.
It was also moved forward on a 3-2 vote again Monday, with Councilmen Pete Groetken and Dan Moore voting against it.
If the ordinance receives final approval, the salary increase will be just the second raise for the mayor and council members in 20 years. The last increase in pay took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and the one under consideration would be effective in 2020.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the two councilmen who voted against the pay raise.