City postpones decision on water-sewer assistance for now

By: 
Alastair Baker
News Editor 
Thursday, December 20, 2018

After lengthy discussion and public input at last week’s meeting of the Red Lodge City Council it was decided to postpone Resolution 3501: To provide funding for water-sewer assistance for qualifying Red Lodge citizens through Red Lodge Area Community Foundation (RLACF).

Council officer Corey Thompson had originally brought up the idea of using the unclaimed water and sewer deposits in this account to provide relief to those who can’t pay their water and sewer bill.

Almost immediately the Resolution fell foul of concerns.

Council officer Diane Dimich pointed out that “Over the past year the council passed an ordinance putting on 10 percent fees for late payments and $25 fee for a door hanger and over the past year that account has collected $15,000. That’s just fees and penalties on people struggling to pay their bills. And in that particular ordinance it stated why we had to raise the fees, because we have infrastructure and bills to cover and there is no mention of starting any kind of a fund. Now this money that we have found can be used for anything according to the auditors and they gave the City  good advise on what needs to be done and I don’t think this resolution’s covers this.”

Dimich was also concerned with the RLACF receiving a 4 percent fee for being involved with the project.

“We are turning over a responsibility of the City to the Community Foundation to deal with and we are just putting a Band-Aid on something that isn’t going to solve the problem,” said Dimich. “We need a long-term solution. To turn over $15,000 to an organization without a definite plan… I’ve not had anyone come to me from the Foundation, DSVS or any of the Churches that are struggling to help people pay their bills. We have no data.”  

“According to what we’ve heard, these people not paying can waltz right into the Foundation and say ‘I need help,’” said Dimich.

Thompson responded by saying that “the Foundation has vetted people for all sorts of programs and this is what they do well. I don’t think it’s the City’s job to provide social services. I think if we have a fund that relieves pressure from some individuals, it’s the Foundation they can do it much better.”

“I don’t believe that,” replied Dimich. “It is public funds and we have a fiduciary responsibility to take care of those funds for the citizens of Red Lodge. We sat here and cut the Park’s Budget and General Fund but then say we’ve got $15,000 and give it to another organization? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Suggestions were made whereby the City would have final approval on a plan in place or setting up a sliding scale for payment or having the public donate via their water bill or donate their deposit.  

One member of the public suggested the City make the “make the program sustainable and not sublet it out to another entity. I don’t think you should spend money before you have a plan.”

Supposing someone needs help and comes in and there is no money left they added.

 

Another said it would be “nice” to see it help senior citizens in town. 

Carbon County Commissioner Bill Bullock, “strongly” suggested that the City has its  “stopgaps and regulations in place before transferring money. As a resident I would be pretty concerned about having money sent to the Foundation. I’ve nothing against them but giving that money without regulations and protocols and provisions in place would be a challenge for auditors to accept.” 

Thompson explained that the money isn’t physically going to the RLCAF. 

“The money isn’t going to the Foundation it is going to the City, the Foundation is merely vetting the people who may need the money. There is a cap on the money as to how many times an individual can use this money. I think it is twice and the cap is $300,” she said. 

“The City would simply transfer the money from that cash reserve fund to the person’s sewer and water bill,” she said. 

The postponement for Resolution No. 3501 is indefinite and will now be looked at by another council starting in January.

 

 

 

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