In 2012, a customer repeatedly came into the City of Sumter Utility Finance department to pay his water bill late. He had special needs and lived by himself. Although he was continually late in paying his water bill, his difficult circumstances made timely payment a real challenge.
As it turns out, he received a support check each month, but always after the water bill was due – and those dates aren’t flexible. He realized that if he could just get ahead for one month, then he’d have the money to pay on time thereafter. So, the City decided to step in and help. Several employees raised funds and helped pay his bill for one month, so that he could get on track with timely payments.
Knowing that there were other stories similar to this in our Community and that the City could help, even in the seemingly smallest of ways, the City of Sumter established the Water Assistance Program.
The City researched local charitable organizations to find out how they were helping those in need – and, more specifically, what organizations were helping others with paying essential utility bills.
The City looked at every charity in Sumter, and 95 percent of the help given to pay water bills was coming from United Ministries. So, given the City’s successful partnerships with United Ministries in the past, the City decided to move forward with them and develop the program.
Under the Water Assistance Program, the City accepts donations from existing utility customers through their choice of donation on their monthly water bill. The money that is donated by customers is placed into a designated fund and then sent to United Ministries to dispense to selected families that have been screened and counseled by their staff.
The City’s partnership with United Ministries provides a consistent, long-term solution that builds on both of our successes. The City’s goal is not just to pay bills, but to stand side by side with its residents and support them during their most difficult times with dignity and pride. This program also allows residents to assist their neighbors and community in ways they didn’t even know existed and without putting too much burden on any one resident.
The City accepts donations in three ways (and these donations are tax deductible):
- First, customers can make a one-time donation by adding the amount to their monthly water bill payment. This amount can be any amount they choose and can be donated once or as often as they choose.
- Second, there is an auto-roundup feature on customers’ monthly bills where they can choose to round up their payment to the nearest dollar each month. For example, if your water bill is $40.75 each month, you will be billed a total amount of $41 and your contribution to the assistance program will be $0.25 each month.
- Third, customers can decide to add a simple recurring dollar amount to their monthly bill. By downloading and completing the online donation form you can choose to add a specific dollar amount to your monthly bill.
The program is off to a good start. By the end of 2015 the fund had collected over $5,400 from our generous customers. These funds have since assisted approximately 50 families in Sumter, but with a community our size and with our continuous needs, we know we need more. In just the first two years over 418 customers have been enrolled in the program and every day that list grows higher.
The current program is designed to assist customers with short term assistance and offers to approved applicants a one-time payment, but we are always looking at additional ways to assist our most critical residents.
We encourage everyone to give what they can, when they can. Want to contribute? It’s simple: you can check a box on your monthly bill or download the donation form online at http://www.sumtersc.gov/water-assistance-program.aspx.
For questions and more information, contact the City of Sumter Utility Finance Office at 803-436-2541.