Gladstone opts out of energy aid program

GLADSTONE – The Gladstone City Commission opted out of participating in a new state program aimed to fund energy assistance for low-income residents, and discussed the future of the city following the November election.

“Public Act 95 of 2013 was signed into law by the governor and what that allows is for electric utilities to charge up to $1 on your monthly electric bill. Then the city would remit that money to the state of Michigan… That would become part of the Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund and be brought back to the region under that assistance program,” explained City Manager Darla Falcon.

The Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund is not be allowed to exceed $50 million. The Department of Human Services is responsible for distributing money from the fund back to the region it was collected from to help residents who qualify for assistance under the Michigan Energy Assistance Act of 2012.

“The cities have an option to opt out of the program and not charge a dollar on the electric utility bill,” said Falcon.

The commission moved to opt out of the program, joining 17 other municipalities who have chosen not to participate. Ten municipalities have agreed to participate in the program, and 13 other municipalities have until today to make a decision.

Because the city opted out of the program, they are legally bound not to shut off service to any residential customer from Nov. 1 to April 15 for nonpayment of a delinquent account.

During the meeting, it was also noted there is a lack of residents interested in running for election to the commission in November.

“There’s three seats open for four-year terms, and I have one commissioner returning,” said City Clerk Kim Berry.

The seats of Mayor Darin Hunter and Commissioners Joe Maki and Hugo Mattonen will be up for election during in November. Only Maki has currently filed to seek reelection and no other applications have been filed. The deadline for applications is Aug. 13 at 4 p.m. to be named on the ballot.

If the vacated positions could not be filled with elected representatives, the new commission would be forced to appoint residents to those positions.

“That’s not how we want to do that,” said Maki.

Commissioner David Olsen has expressed to the commission that he is considering resigning his position, which would expire in 2015. He intends to present his resignation to the commission in September.

If Olsen were to resign and Maki were to return to the commission, only Maki and Commissioner Matt Gay would remain. Because two members is not a quorum, the commissioners would be unable to appoint residents to the vacant seats or conduct city business.

“I’m not even sure how (the positions would be filled) at that point. Two commissioners can’t conduct business,” said Berry.