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Tax rebate program on the rise to help ‘struggling’ families

The amount the city has refunded in utility tax dollars has steadily risen during the last four years.  - Courtesy city of Federal Way
The amount the city has refunded in utility tax dollars has steadily risen during the last four years.
— image credit: Courtesy city of Federal Way

City staff are preparing to begin outreach to residents who may qualify for the Utility Tax Rebate Program, which continues to show significant yearly growth.

Through the program, residents are able to recapture a portion of their utility taxes for the year. Federal Way created the program specifically to benefit senior citizens in 2003. In 2006, it was expanded to include low-income disabled residents. Typically, residents can begin applying for their rebates in December. Come spring, the application process closes.

“In this economy, families, community members and city residents are really struggling,” executive assistant Brook Lindquist said. “(The Utility Tax Rebate Program) really does make a difference to our citizens in Federal Way.”

City staff is looking to identify more potential applicants. In hopes of bumping up participation, staff increased its outreach last year. The city will launch an equally aggressive public education and outreach effort this year.

Reaching out:

The outreach will include a variety of efforts. Staff will meet with local human services agencies, businesses, property managers and homeowner’s associations, executive assistant Brook Lindquist said. Staff will be in close contact with the Federal Way Senior Center and the Community Center, she said.

This year’s application process will be streamlined. The goal is to issue a user-friendly application absent of requests for unnecessary information. A refer-a-friend element will be added to the program. The city will also create a Utility Tax Rebate Program webpage on its website, www.cityoffederalway.com. Frequently asked questions and online applications will be available there.

Program growth:

Since its start seven years ago, the program has shown increases in participation. The 2009 Utility Tax Rebate Program, which resulted in rebates issued into spring 2010, saw an increase of 66 percent compared to 2008. A total of 154 applications were processed, Lindquist said. Of those, 73 were from residents whom had not applied for the program in past years.

The increase was likely connected to last year’s effort to expand public education about the program. Posters were placed around the community in targeted locations. Staff met with employees working at the Multi-service Center to help them educate their clients. Citizens waiting in line at Federal Way’s MSC food bank were also made aware of the program.

“It was really eye-opening and a lot of fun,” Lindquist said.

The city sought out the press to help spread the word about the program. Additionally, the application forms were translated into Korean, Russian and Spanish.

“That really seemed to help break some language barriers that were previously there,” Lindquist said.

Reclaiming money:

Most recipients received more than $100 back from the 2009 rebate program. The average rebate was $132.95. The highest rebate came in at $328.23 and the lowest rebate was $12.88. In total, the city reimbursed $20,453 through the Utility Tax Rebate Program, Lindquist said. That is an increase of nearly $7,000 compared to last year’s rebate program, she said.

The process for issuing rebates was streamlined in 2009. It took an average of 12 days for applicable residents to receive their rebate check. In the past, it took eight to 10 weeks for residents to have the rebate check in hand.

Learn more:

To be eligible for the 2010 rebate program, individuals must live in Federal Way, meet age and income requirements and have saved proof of their year’s utility bills, including electric, heating, phone, cell phone, garbage and cable television. The city will begin accepting applications in December. Contact Brook Lindquist at (253) 835-2403 for more information or to receive an application.

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