BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — The board for Traverse City Light & Power pulled the plug on more than $30,000 in donations to six non-profit groups while it reconsiders its policy on charitable giving.
The board referred to committee a review of its policy to give half the revenue it collects from a $5 fee for shut-off notices to charities that provide home heating assistance in winter. But proposals for a $5,000 sponsorship to the National Cherry Festival and $11,000 to sponsor the Grand Traverse Conservation District’s native plant sale didn’t even have enough support for a vote.
“I don’t see anything in our goals that line up with the Cherry Festival,” said board member John Taylor.
The city-owned utility had sponsored the National Cherry Festival for more than two decades and the plant sale for the last 13 years.
Representatives for the Cherry Festival and Conservation District made presentations at the board’s previous meeting, but the board lacked a quorum to take action. Neither agency had a representative at Tuesday night’s meeting for what had always been a routine vote on the consent agenda, where non-controversial items are grouped together.
Mayor Michael Estes pulled all three donations off the consent agenda. He asked the utility to consider putting its money toward programs that have a more direct benefit for city residents. He recommended the utility put more resources toward helping people make their homes energy efficient with emphasis on targeting lower-income families.
“Light & Power isn’t supposed to be a social services agency, it’s supposed to really address the issue of energy efficiency,” Estes said.
Barbara Budros, a city commissioner who serves on the utility board, called the policy of charging customers who don’t pay their bills $5 then giving that money to charities who help them pay the bill “worse than a vicious cycle.”
But Budros expects the new committee to make at least one more round of home heating assistance donations and will address how much at its first meeting. The policy is half of the fees collected, but the board has given 100 percent the past three years. There is currently more than $29,000 in the fund.
“We need a new policy, but we don’t want to create a bigger problem for people by delaying those funds while we develop it,” Budros said.