Pasco County's utility customers are about to get a chance to help the needy. Today in Dade City, Pasco commissioners are expected to approve an idea first suggested by Commissioner Ted Schrader during the 2009 budget deliberations — let water and sewer customers contribute to charity via their monthly bills.
The program will give 93,000 utility customers the option of rounding up their monthly bill payments to the next highest dollar amount with the proceeds going to the United Way of Pasco for distribution.
It's a plan borrowed from the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative's "Operation Roundup'' program in which about 25,000 of the cooperative's 200,000 customers choose to round up their power bill payments. The average contribution of 49 cents a month generates about $120,000 annually.
Similar results for Pasco County — one-eighth of the county's utility customers donating 49 cents a month to charity — could bring $63,000 a year for the nonprofits. It is a smart way to help fend off what has become an annual debate among commissioners — setting aside a nominal amount of general fund dollars for outside charitable work.
Currently, the county allocates just $250,000 for charities serving a population of 471,000 people, or per capita spending of 53 cents. It is a 35 percent decline from the $380,000 distributed just three years ago.
The current contribution is a dismal investment in the county's most vulnerable populations —seniors seeking hearing aids or trying to live independently at home, at-risk youths, and people who are medically needy, fleeing abusive relationships, jobless, hungry or developmentally disabled. Those are the clients of the 18 charities that share the county appropriation, using the allocations to leverage significantly larger grants from other sources.
We have disagreed with Schrader and Commissioner Pat Mulieri for opposing allocations to outside charities, but the roundup program is a worthwhile endeavor for the utilities department and Schrader should be commended for suggesting the volunteer contributions.
The challenge to commissioners, however, is to use the proceeds to supplement their allocation, instead of simply supplanting it with this new revenue source. Contributors should have confidence they are expanding help for the needy, since the number in need also is expanding.