Following a decision to continue applying for an exemption with the state that would allow the town to pursue cutoffs for utility customers who have unpaid bills, a Strasburg resident has come up with an idea to help those customers.
During the Town Council work session on Tuesday night, George Rathore suggested the creation of a “round-up” fund to help those residents in need.
The fund would work by providing the town’s utility customers an option to round up their bill to a desired amount, Rathore explained. The fund would then be available to provide money to help customers who are struggling with their utility bill. With 6,583 residents, if everyone contributed $1, that would put $6,583 in the fund to help people, Rathore explained.
“We’re helping our own,” Rathore said during the work session. He noted that some people are too embarrassed to come forward and ask for help. This fund, he said, provides an anonymous way for residents to help others.
Last week, the town began the process of allowing for an exemption from the moratorium on utility cutoffs that the state had enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The town can apply for the exemption if its dollar amount from customers’ unpaid bills, or arrearages, exceeds 1% of the town’s utility operating expenses.
The town’s arrearages are $71,000 and 1% of the utility’s operating expenses is about $61,000. Town Manager Wyatt Pearson has said the option of service cutoffs increases the number of bills being paid.
Pearson said he would explore the possibility of Rathore's idea with town staff. The town works with the Dollar Energy Fund to provide assistance to customers and Pearson has said anyone facing hardships with their bills is asked to contact the town.
The Dollar Energy Fund in other localities has separate banking balances to provide an assistance program to customers, and Rathmore’s idea could be a funding source for that, Pearson said.
Rathore shared the idea with the council after Councilwoman Doreen Ricard heard it at an Outreach Committee meeting last week and she suggested he share it on Tuesday. Councilman Paul Weaver praised the idea, saying it’s a way for people to have a better idea of where their contributions go, as opposed to giving them to a more regional entity.
“Rock on, George,” Weaver said.