Smyrna Town Council voted at their meeting Monday to reallocate a $2,500 donation given to the Smyrna/Clayton Ministerium last year from being used for local victims of Hurricane Sandy to now being used to help Smyrna residents with utility bills.

Rev. Dr. John Riley, treasurer of the ministerium, asked for the reallocation of the funds at the June 3 council meeting. Riley was joined by Rector Donna Jean Kiessling. The Smyrna/Clayton Ministerium is a religious non-profit in town that has helped people in need for the last 50 years. Riley is pastor at First Presbyterian Church. Kiessling is the rector at St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

"Through a variety of media, we've tried to make people aware that this was here for their relief but no one has come forward," Riley said.

Since there is a lack of need by victims of Hurricane Sandy, Riley proposed council reallocate the funds to go towards assisting residents with utility bills. Riley said a few years ago the town gave the ministerium a $10,000 emergency grant to meet the needs of people in Smyrna with their electric bills.

Last year, the ministerium used 42 percent of their roughly 12,600 budget towards paying Town of Smyrna resident's utility bills. So far this year, 33 percent of the ministerium's $8,557 budget has been used to go towards utility bills.

"That is our biggest consumer of our funds," Riley said. "The biggest need we have comes during the summer season with air conditioning and people trying to keep their homes cool."

Riley said a lot of elderly residents on a fixed income and low-income families have had issues paying summer electric bills despite their efforts to conserve electric use in the summer.

Councilwoman Valerie White asked for Riley to explain how the process works.

Riley said the ministerium can only help with a customer's utility bill once a year, but the ministerium does work in conjunction with other local groups if it is unable to meet a need.

"We have to ration our help," Riley said.

A resident that needs help can stop by First Presbyterian Church or the State Service Center in town and fill out an application explaining what caused the emergency need to arise. Riley said careful consideration is given and the ministerium does validate to make sure a person actually needs assistance.

"This is not just a giveaway program," Riley said.

Residents can stop by First Presbyterian Church during the week from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The State Service Center in Smyrna is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Vice Mayor Regina Brown asked for Riley to better explain if a resident can get assistance if they're electric is already disconnected.

Riley said the ministerium prefers residents ask for help before disconnection because the ministerium isn't allowed to pay disconnection fees. If there's a reconnection fee, Riley said the person has to find another source for payment.

Town Manager Dave Hugg the town has had an excellent working relationship with the ministerium since he's worked for the town and he appreciates their assistance for Smyrna customers.

"I've called John several times and said 'Hey, I have a customer that's got a problem' and they are always there to help," Hugg said. "I think anything we can offer to support the ministerium is a worthy thing for us to be doing."

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