UNION — A program that provides heating and cooling assistance to city utility customers has been renewed for another year.
In 1993, the City of Union initiated the Community Change Program which gives city utility customers the option of having their monthly bill rounded off to the next dollar. The resulting difference between the customer’s actual bill and the figure achieved through the rounding off is then collected into the Community Change Fund.
When the program initiated, the purpose of Community Change was to generate funds to charitable organizations in providing food and housing assistance to the needy. Today, however, it is now the Community Change Heating and Cooling Assistance program and provides assistance to qualified city customers who would otherwise be unable to pay their utility bills during the summer and/or winter.
The program has to be renewed each year by Union City Council and council voted unanimously last week to authorize the release of the funds for the current year.
In recommending the release of the funds, Finance Director Walker Gallman told council that the heating assistance portion of the program for electric and/or gas customers is available from Jan. 2 through April 30. The cooling assistance portion for electric customers is available from July 1 through Oct. 31. Gallman said that each city utility customer who qualifies for the program can receive $100 per season. He said that no customer, however, should receive more than $200 in any one fiscal year.
To qualify for the assistance, Gallman said a customer must also be a participant in the Community Change Program.
Gallman added that, in 2013, Community Change generated $21,725.75 and provided a total of $29,787.22 in heating and/or cooling assistance to 298 customers.
“Use of these funds to help with heating and cooling bills is in keeping with what we have always said the fund will be used for,” Gallman said. “Assistance will continue (based) on the availability of funds.”
Mayor Harold Thompson said the program has been a great help over the years to city customers who find themselves having difficulty paying their utility bills in the winter and/or summer.
“The Community Change Program has a been a great program to aid our citizens,” Thompson said. “The program was set up some years ago to give assistance during the winter time for heating and cooling assistance in the summertime. We see a lot of people get in a bind during these times of the year and need a few extra dollars to help them make their bills. I feel this is a worthwhile project and I commend city council for renewing it. I’m hoping over the years we get more people to participate in it.”
In letters to Walter H. Kellogg, Executive Director of Carolina Community Action, and Capt. Donnie Marvels, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army, Mayor Harold Thompson stated that city council was again asking for the organizations “to partner with the city to administer and qualify individuals to receive these funds. The only guidelines the city requires are that they be a City of Union Utility electric customer for the summer cooling assistance, electric or gas customers for the winter heating assistance, and quality under your guidelines.”
Kellogg responded to Thompson’s letter with a letter thanking him for the “invitation to again participate in the City of Union’s Heating and Cooling Assistance Program. We welcome this opportunity to serve the city’s electric and/or gas customers and understand $100 limitation. We believe this is a wonderful endeavor authorize by city council and are grateful for our long term relationship with the city.”
Marvels also replied by letter, stating that the Salvation Army “is honored to participate in the Heating and Cooling Assistance Program from the City of Union. … We thank you for the opportunity to be of service to the City of Union Community.”
Thompson thanked both organizations for their decision to again assist the city with qualifying people to receive assistance from the Community Change Program.
“Both of these agencies have worked diligently with us to quality people for the assistance,” Thompson said. “I think they’ve done an extraordinary job. Sometimes we get complaints from people who don’t qualify but a larger percentage do qualify and we thank these organizations for their assistance in this process.”
In other business, council voted unanimously to appoint Preston Thomas to the Board of Commissioners of the Union Housing Authority.
Council also voted unanimously to transfer a .09 acre parcel and a .22 acre parcel of land on Louise Street to the owner of an adjacent property.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, Ext. 14.