By Jean Cole
Some Athens City Council members say they misunderstood a proposal by Athens Utilities to begin rounding customer bills up to the next dollar in order to create a special fund for community grants.
So, they plan to slow implementation of the program to give residents more time to join or opt out.
During a work session Monday, Athens Utilities General Manager Gary Scroggins had briefed the City Council on the program, which is designed to provide community grants in Athens and Limestone County. The council approved the measure during the meeting that followed.
Under the rules of the program, Athens Utilities would begin rounding customer bills on Jan. 1, 2013.
On Thursday, Mayor Ronnie Marks, Council President Jimmy Gill and Councilman Harold Wales said they wanted to give customers time to learn more about the program and make an informed decision about whether to participate or opt out. The new City Council, including Wales, will vote Nov. 13 to change the effective date of the program to April 1, giving customers three additional months, said Athens Utilities Customer Relations Manager Amy Golden.
She said this is how the program works:
Athens Utilities will automatically round each customer’s utility bill up to the next dollar. For example, a bill of $73.66 would become $74.00. The extra cents from each participating customer’s bill would be collected and placed into a special account to be used to provide grants to local non-profit organizations that apply for a specific need, she said.
An advisory board of Athens and Limestone County community members would recommend how the money could be spent, Golden said. The mayor would appoint members to the advisory board, and the council would vote on those appointments, she said.
Golden said the advisory board would review all grant proposals, adhering to strict guidelines regarding use of the money. (Grant applications must specify what the funds would be used for, and each organization receiving a grant must sign a legal document agreeing that the funds will only be spent for the purpose specified in the application.) All funds would stay in Limestone County.
“Athens Utilities realizes Limestone County is a generous community, and customers may want to support their specific charities,” Golden said. “Opting out of the program is simple, and customers do not have to provide a reason why they are opting out.”
To opt out, call Customer Accounts at 256-233-8750 and provide your name, address and phone number.
For more information about the program, call Golden at 256-262-1525.