The utility budgeted about $774,000 to hand out to various organizations and charities in 2013, raising the ire of some Utilities Board members.
“The greater question pointed out by these gifts and the gift-giving process leads to the overall structure of the board and the built-in conflict of interest presented by being both a city councilor and a utility company board member,” Councilman Tim Leigh recently wrote in his electronic newsletter.
“As a utility company board member I understand and condone the giving. I encourage it. As a company, the million dollar give-away is chump change used to curry small-time political favor. I understand the process,” he said.
“But as a city councilor looking out for Fred the Plumber and his good wife Ethel and their 3 kids living in a poorly insulated, small duplex on the east side, I’m compelled to call-out the unfairness of arbitrary gifts of rate payer dollars. ”
Click here to see the list of groups that are poised to receive ratepayer money and the amount.
The Gazette asked Springs Utilities to provide more information about the “Community Focus Fund” program.
Here is their response:
As a citizen-owned utility, we are committed to giving back to the community we serve. Our community investments programs include investments in community organizations that retain, grow, and recruit businesses in our region; grants through the Community Focus Fund program; support of designated City Sponsored events; sponsorships of local non-profit events and memberships in local community associations.
Community investment provides financial support for activities and events in the community or in communities impacted by Springs Utilities operations. Utilities Board policy requires us to demonstrate strong corporate responsibility and be responsive to community needs and values. Community investment is limited to financial contributions which are budgeted as annual operating expense derived from operating revenues. We are able to invest no more than 1/4 of one percent of budgeted operations revenues in support of the community. Our budgeted amount is actually about 1/10 of one percent. The small increase in the 2013 budget covers increased costs in city-sponsored events and realignment of funding to meet community needs.
Community investments were first formalized in 1997 with the chartering of the Community Focus Fund by City Council. The Community Focus Fund was established as a community outreach program to support employee volunteerism and provide financial support to local nonprofit organizations and schools. The program is managed by an employee steering committee of about 20 employees from throughout the organization who make volunteer project and funding decisions based on the program’s charter and guidelines. Funding and volunteering is focused on affordable housing assistance, community, education, environment, safety & health, senior citizens, youth. Funds are also used to purchase supplies and equipment for employee volunteer projects.
Sponsorship funding is determined by a management team to support organizations and events that have a strong alignment with Springs Utilities’ business objectives such as workplace diversity, conservation and the environment, safety, renewable energy, science education or in support of events where Springs Utilities employees have made significant volunteer commitments to organizations as members of the board of directors.
Funds are also used to fulfill requests from City Council to underwrite the cost of barricades for designated city sponsored events such as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, parades, etc.
In addition, our primary focus is supporting employee volunteerism. Year after year, we donate thousands of personal hours to local charities and nonprofit agencies to help make our community a better place. In 2011, our volunteer hours topped 25,000.