By ALICIA LEONARD
The DeFuniak Springs City Council, in a unanimous vote, approved a cooperative effort between the city of DeFuniak Springs and Tri-County Community Council to assist citizens who need help with their utility bills. With reports this week of wholesale prices jumping to their highest levels since November 2007, the project’s approval hits a timely note.
The program is designed to “assist the elderly, disabled, the sick and others experiencing financial hardships,” according to the information presented at the July 13 City Hall meeting. Project share will be administered through Tri-County and will be funded by utility customers who donate through their pledges to contribute any whole dollar amount each month by adding onto their utility bill or donating directly to the fund through the city. Contributions can be made on a one time basis or a continuous donation.
Mayor Pro-Tempore James Huffman praised the efforts of Financial Director Sarah Bowers and the program. “I think it’s a great idea. If you’ve ever been to the Tri-Community office, you understand how many people, people who have jobs and work hard, are having trouble paying their utility bills. If we can help by using this program, then I’m all for it.”
Bowers explained to the Council that the system was automated and already setup so as to not impede any employees time. Mayor Harold Carpenter agreed and explained,”When people come in because they are having trouble paying their utility bills, it probably takes more time to work that out with them, than the administration of this program. It will probably help save time and money all the way around after it gets up and running.”
Those who need to access the program will need to apply at the Tri-County office located at 1588 U.S. 331 South in DeFuniak Springs. Tri-Council will determine who is eligible and will handle the distribution of funds. Funds are payed directly to the utility company on behalf of the individual and not to the individual themselves.
In other business, the Council approved unanimously three purchases for materials, a columbarium and a portable backup generator for well No. 2.
The generator low bid was approved for $34,486. The low bid for the columbarium was approved at $14,267 and the material purchase was for a 25-percent grant match needed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation service. The material cost is estimated to be $26,848 and will be used to repair the storm-water infrastructure at 5th Street and Chaffin Avenue.
The Council approved unanimously to enter into negotiations for IT services with I Fix Computers, Inc. The local business was the only one that responded on time with all the information requested for proposals for Internet consultant services.
The Council then moved gave tentative approval to the city’s budget schedule for this year’s budget workshops and approved unanimously to hold the millage rates at last year’s rate.
In a last bit of business the Council approved 5-0 to partner with the Emerald Coast Association of Realtors over a “smart-growth grant” that will target a future plan of growth for the city and work hand-in-hand with the city’s comprehensive plan.
The first tentative date schedule for a budget workshop id July 28 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The next scheduled City Hall meeting is July 27 at 6 p.m.