County providing $5Gs for heat bills

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Pondering a technical funding question that led to an allocation of $5,000 to help low income people pay heating bills are, from left, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett and Commissioners Phil Willis, Jimmy Stitt and Larry McKnight.

Marshall County commissioners voted Monday to spend $5,000 of motel room tax revenue to get $10,000 matching federal money so low and moderate income households can get help with their heating bills this winter.

"We've got families with light and heat bills that went sky high," County Commissioner Mickey King, chairman of the Budget Committee said of help that can go up to a one-time payment of $450 per household. "Every dollar we spend gets $2. Same deal as last year."

County help is through a continuing program operated by the South Central Human Resource Agency that's headquartered in Fayetteville, but has an office at 1572 Old Columbia Road that's practically across the street from the county roads garage. The local office phone number is 359-6393.

Generally speaking, if a family is eligible for Food Stamps, then there's a good chance that the household will be eligible for help with bills for electric power, natural gas, propane and other energy sources.

Local leaders were briefed on Thursday in the County Courthouse Annex by Cathy Hayes of the Human Resouce Agency. She leads the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Hayes explained the state has allocated more than $100,000 to Marshall County and that an additional $75,000 may be allocated next month.

"She's meeting with her county commissions across the district" served by the agency, according to the Rev. Steve Thomas, pastor of Belfast Presbyterian Church.

"It's a once-a-year kind of thing," Thomas said. "But if families feel as though they need help, they should go to the office on Old Columbia Road.

"It's a real plus for the community because all mission budgets are stretched thin," the pastor said. "The county is having a tough year and the churches are too.

"We saw that clearly at Christmas time," he said. "People then asked for help who'd never asked before.

"As layoffs take hold, people are newly in economic straits," Thomas said. "This is a chance to meet basic human needs. It's the kind of thing we see every day ... and it allows us to leverage our local dollars to go further."

Last winter, officials from Lewisburg, Marshall County, and the power utilities, as well as local charities, donated so much to the program that funds not matched in the dozen other counties served by the agency were made available here.

The emergency funds program matches local contributions. It's the program that prompted donations by Lewisburg councilmen last winter and allocations by the utilities here.

Commissioners debated, at length, on Monday which account should provide the money. There was no dispute during that debate whether the county should participate. One concern about using county general fund reserves was that a reserve must be maintained to comply with auditing guidelines. As a result, the Budget Committee recommended using motel room tax revenue. That's presumably paid by visitors instead of residents, and is funneled into a separate account for community and economic development.

Regardless of the source of the county allocation, the final vote was unanimous.