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Utility bill assistance approved
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Financially needy utility customers are one step closer to some relief with the Covington City Council's Monday decision to approve an energy assistance program for low-income residents.

Once the program is in place, Covington utility customers will have the option of taking part in "Project Round-Up," which will round up their monthly electricity bills to the next dollar. For example, a bill of $175.09 would be rounded up to $176 with the 91 cents going to the assistance fund.

Only city of Covington residents, who meet certain financial thresholds, will be eligible to receive utility assistance.

Partnership for Community Action Inc. will administer the program and assess utility assistance applicants on their financial needs. In exchange for administering the program, PCA will keep 10 percent of all collected fees for its own financial aid programs in Rockdale, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.

"We're trying our very best to give back to our community in every legal way we can," said Covington Mayor Kim Carter of the program.

Letters briefing customers on the new program will be included in the next utility bill. A draft of the letter invites customers that wish to participate in the voluntary program to respond by including their utility account number and their signature on the letter and to send it back with their utility payment.

PCA Program Operations Director Vanessa Rush said she would not know what financial formula the agency would use in determining qualifying income levels until PCA has met with city officials to decide on one.

For its own utility assistance program, Rush said PCA accepted applicants that were 150 percent below the poverty level. For a family of four, that would mean a maximum income of $30,975 she said. In determining financial need, Rush said PCA typically asks for all income checks for the last month.

Project Round-Up is the result of nearly a year's study by a special committee formed by former Mayor Sam Ramsey. In trying to find a way to implement a utility assistance program, City Manager Steve Horton said Covington had to deal with the obstacle that it could not legally take money from city coffers to disburse to low-income customers; therefore, a middle-agency was needed.

The program is similar to one run by Snapping Shoals EMC, called Operation Round Up. Unlike Snapping Shoals' program however, applicants to the city's program can only use awarded funds to pay their electricity bills.

During the summer months, the city of Covington has some of the highest utility rates in the state. According to the Georgia Public Service Commission, last summer Covington was ranked 93 out of 94 utilities for its rates for 1500 kilowatt hours ($171.62).

In other city council news:

The city council is considering changing their meeting times from 7:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Under the proposal, the meeting dates, which are every first and third Monday of the month, would remain the same.

• Mayor Carter proposed the time change, citing the late hour that council meetings can often run to. Support for the proposal was initially divided among council members, with retired council members generally in favor of it. The proposal also received some verbal support from city employees in attendance at the council's Monday work session.

• Carter requested that City Attorney Ed Crudup look into what must legally take place before the council can change its meeting time. The item is to come before the council for a vote at their next meeting.