The Frankfort Plant Board will be looking to set up a foundation that could help customers who struggle to pay their utility bills.
FPB directors discussed the initiative Tuesday during their second day of budget talks. It grew out of suggestions for a “community support program” to benefit nonprofit organizations and eventually turned to a discussion about establishing a foundation, which would be funded by the community, to help disadvantaged people pay their power and water bills. The foundation could also be used to support nonprofits. A majority of board members supported the foundation idea, while the community support program got a less favorable reception.
The topic arose out of a request from FPB member Dawn Hale for up to $25,000 for “community support programs.” She was interested in the funds being offered to community nonprofit organizations for projects related to services provided by FPB.
“For instance, the soup kitchen may see a need for a water bottle station,” Hale said. “The Sunshine Center (a woman’s shelter) may think that they can save money on the electric bill if they can replace all lights with LED bulbs, but they don't have the money, so they can come to us.”
Cathy Lindsey, FPB spokeswoman, said she regularly gets requests from nonprofits looking for assistance. And those requests could turn out to be positive public relations and marketing opportunities.
“Other municipal utilities do this,” Lindsay said. “They have community giving programs set up. People can apply … and once the funds run out, they’re gone.”
Board member Stephen Mason expressed support for a program but said he would like to a see a plan in place first to get a scope of who could receive the funds and the projects that would qualify before he committed ratepayer money toward it.
“It feels like we are walking into a project without a plan,” Mason said. “… It’s good to be known as benevolent to everyone, but that’s not our business. My benevolence would like to be targeted to ratepayers.”
Board member Jeff Bradshaw said he agreed with Mason’s sentiment and that other community programs – such as the drinking bottle water fountains in schools – had succeeded with a plan in place.
“Having a good solid plan in place will put us in the right direction and give us the operating parameters to make that successful,” Bradshaw said.
The conversation developed with Chairwoman Anna Marie Pavlik Rosen and Vice Chair Walt Baldwin expressing opposition. They instead suggested a foundation be set up for private entities to contribute funds, which would be tax-deductible, and any community contributions would come from that foundation.
“I’m not supportive of being in the direct funding role,” Baldwin said. “I question whether we can legally. And it seems outside of our lane to deliver power and be good stewards of our customers' money.”
All of the board members expressed support for a foundation. However, Hale and Mason said that the decision on a community support program did not have to be an “either-or” with a foundation.
In the end, Mason called for FPB staff to return before the board with a budget line item for a program to benefit nonprofits to get an up or down vote.