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Marion Utilities selects new entity for water bill help

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion Utilities Service Board approved a transition for the Marion Utilities’ H2O Community program, which will now bring help to individuals involved with Circles of Grant County.

The program, which assists customers in paying their water bills, has worked with The Salvation Army for the last few years. 

Chuck Binkerd, director of Marion Utilities, explained the H2O program was started because while there are ways people could receive financial assistance for electric bills and gas bills, there historically hasn't been a way to get help with paying for water bills.

The funding has been supported through donations from employees at Marion Utilities, fundraisers and community organizations. Binkerd said the Moorehead Community Foundation has donated $10,000 to the fund a couple of times. He said the program has had a lot of success and has helped a lot of people get back on their feet.

“From the very beginning, we always thought we’d like to see this opportunity grow and evolve,” he said. “ …(we want to) begin to transition to a situation where we can support the efforts of some other local entities in the community to take a little more holistic approach to helping folks.”

Binkerd went on to explain that Circles of Grant County is an organization which helps families and individuals who are struggling by providing mentoring and opportunities to create a plan to get back on track.

For example, Binkerd said a family could sit down with Circles and make a two- or six-month plan to help bring in financial support for their utility bill, while they worked on paying off a medical bill.

However, the individual would have to qualify to receive help from Circles.

Robin Shrader, assistant director for operations and maintenance, said one of the reasons they chose Circles of Grant County is because the organization has strict policies which prevent repeated handouts. Instead, it gives a helping hand and the resources to help get people back on their feet through requiring a continuous effort be made.

Binkerd also explained that before the Circles team would allocate any money, they would be in communication with the H2O Community team, who would then assess the proposition at hand and give an approval or denial.

The transition will also include the United Way.

The United Way would be the nonprofit that handles and processes the money as well as keep records and make sure the program receives needed reports. The United Way will receive five percent of the money for their services just as the Salvation Army did, Binkerd said.

Binkerd also asked if the board would be willing to provide some funding for the H2O program.

“We’ve talked about the possibility of the board funding H2O Community at some level, we’ve determined that that’s doable and as a part of our budget there’s $5,000 available if the board should choose to provide some seed money as we’re gearing that up to help support the program,” Binkerd said.

The $5,000 would be a one-time allocation from the board for the year, and then, the fund would be open to donations from the staff and community.

Robert Logan, chairman of the MUSB, added that once the $5,000 seed money is available, it would show the community that there is a commitment to this program, which would make others feel more receptive supporting it.

The board approved the organization transition and the $5,000 to get the funding started.

In other news, the board also approved purchases of a 19-foot scissor lift, a 4-post vehicle and a small utility vehicle.

Shrader suggested purchasing a scissor lift for $8,000 that has 145 hours on it, a cost that had been budgeted. She explained they have been renting scissor lifts for a while which would end up being a few hundred dollars each week as they need to use the lift frequently.

In the past, she said they’ve had to use a scaffold or a bucket on a fork lift which is not as safe or expedient as owning a scissor lift.

She also suggested the purchase of a $26,748 4-post vehicle lift, which also had been budgeted. Shrader said they recently brought on a vehicular maintenance coordinator and in the process of getting his shop set up, it became evident that it would be handy for him to have a lift large enough to put some of their big vehicles on.

Lastly, she suggested the purchase of a $9,920.98 small utility vehicle for wastewater utilities. They had budgeted $10,000 for this vehicle, but she also requested to add on the four-year warranty for $500, putting them slightly over budget.

The next MUSB meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21.