UP Scholarship Committee Plans to Raise Funds Through Your Monthly Utility Bill

So. A couple of different readers — at least one of whom was pretty dang incredulous — have told us about a recent mailer that’s been circulating in University Park.

It’s from the City of University Park College Scholarship Committee (which I admit I’d never heard until exactly one second after I saw said mailer), and here are some nuggets:

In 2009 the City received a donation to the University Park Civic Foundation to award college scholarships to the children of City employees. As higher education costs continue to climb, this donation has been critical in helping these students pursue their degree paths. To date, the effort has averaged 15 scholarships during the fall and spring semesters, but the program will be exhausted soon without new funding.

According to the letter, a 2011 survey — which drew responses from around 1,000 people — suggests residents are in favor of adding “a voluntary 50-cent donation to each [UP household’s] utility bill each month.”

On the other hand:

… while we believe most residents will support this donation, which at minimal cost to each of us will collectively provide what is needed, there will be those who prefer not to participate.

On Sept. 4, the scholarship committee will ask the City Council to automatically add that $.50 to your bill. So if their request passes and you want to opt out, you’ll have to call the city’s billing department.

Questions and comments about the scholarship program are being directed to the City Council, at [email protected] If you’re a resident, you’re also invited to serve on a committee (a sub-committee?) that will name scholars according to “financial need, academic record, and leadership potential.”

25 thoughts on “UP Scholarship Committee Plans to Raise Funds Through Your Monthly Utility Bill

  • July 26, 2012 at 7:45 am
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    $6 is not much over the course of a year, but opting in should be voluntary. You cannot force a charity donation. Once it’s in what if the committee decides it should be $5 per bill and not 50 cents? I love the charity but a forced donation from every resident just doesn’t feel right.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 8:32 am
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    for pete’s sake,
    its a tax.
    hard to believe that
    in the solidly red
    UP, our elected officials
    will allow this to happen.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 8:53 am
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    Did the mailer mention how big the initial donation was and how much of that initial donation was doled out each year? If I recall correctly, it was an initial donation of $60K of which they awarded over 33% in the first year alone. Doesn’t seem like whoever was in charge of this committee was a very good steward of the Houseman donation.

    I also believe it was raised in the last post on this topic that the “opting out” by calling a city employee who’s kid you will no longer be “supporting” brings up a very odd dynamic.

    If it is truly voluntary you should have to Opt In, not Opt Out.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 9:49 am
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    I agree with Mom of Boys. I think its great to help these kids pay for college, but it should be a voluntary donation. And, we shouldn’t have to call the City of UP billing department to opt out.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 10:25 am
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    The general idea is not bad. But it is poorly executed. I agree with @Mom of Boys that opt-in should be voluntary. I should not have to call a city employee to tell them that I want to opt-out of city-employee-scholarship-fund.

    I would support a whole raft of options for citizens. Let me go online, and sign in, and click-box on opportunities, and the amount I would want to donate each month. Opportunities could include this scholarship idea, as well as Mad for Plaid, Belles, Band, HP Sports, Tiny Parks, Rise School, YMCA, UP Community League, Tree Plantings, Police, Fire, EMS, North Texas Food Bank, UP Library, Bradford Pearson Wedding Fund, etc…

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  • July 26, 2012 at 10:36 am
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    Sounds like someone just got back from a vacation in Greece where they learned of the idea of collecting taxes through utility bills to fund social welfare programs.

    A charity benefiting the education of the kids of city employees is a worthy cause deserving my support. But just because I feel it’s a good cause doesn’t mean my neighbor does.

    Donations to charity are by definition voluntary. Including an automatic charge on a basic utility which one must actively opt-out from is no longer a donation, but a tax. In this case a tax dreamed up and administered by a private committee for a purpose unrelated to the public collection vehicle. This is not like voluntarily adding to your electric bill payment or water bill to assist those having difficulty making their utility bill payments.

    How is adding a charge for the UP Scholarship Committee different than adding another 50 cents for the Sierra Club or the NRA? Why not just go ahead and do that too? Let’s disband the Salesmanship Club and just add their budget to the water bill too. Why not another $5 for Scot Dollars? Where would it stop? Its 50 cents today, but why not $5 next year?

    “Why all the fuss? Just opt-out.” Until you can’t. Will the opt-out feature be mired in bureaucratic red tape such that it’s more painful to go to the trouble of trying to opt-out than to just pay the 50 cents? “It’s only 50 cents and it’s going to a good cause after all.” This isn’t charitable giving, its coercion. How long until the opt-out feature goes away altogether? How long before the identity of those who opt-out becomes public knowledge? Will that create a social stigma? Will it create different levels of public service? How can it not? Isn’t there a reason so many people put “Police Benevolent Society” stickers in the windows of their cars? Whether different levels of service in fact occur or not, the appearance is there. A public entity has no business collecting for a private charity, particularly when the beneficiaries of the charity are the employees of the public entity doing the collections. This is fraught with potential conflicts of interest.

    Where, exactly, is the money to go? What is the charter of the UP Scholarship Committee? How are scholarship decisions made? What is its ratio of scholarship disbursements to administrative expenses? Who are its members? Is this a committee genuinely interested in promoting the welfare of deserving students or is it a chardonnay klatsch of busy body social climbers now being funded “collectively”? Where’s the transparency?

    Charities are fantastic. Social programs should be run exclusively by charities – it allows donors to make their own decisions on where to give based on their own hearts, or their egos, or their social standing, or whatever motivates them. But solicitation of donations is the responsibility of the charity. This work can’t be foisted off on a public entity. The UP Scholarship Committee should do its own work and let the community show its support individually not “collectively”.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 11:35 am
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    Wow. I think we just found out who the more incredulous reader is. @CW- I dig your passion dude.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 2:48 pm
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    While I think that furthering education is a good cause, and charity is a good cause in general, opt-in or opt-out aside, I’m not so sure this is such a good cause. With situations such as the Community League funding city staff’s bonuses, don’t we already have too much avenue for private individuals having too much influence over city staff? So just last week, someone brought to light how one staff member seriously and significantly slanted numbers to make things appear that the vast majority of the city was in favor of the YMCA expansion. Maybe they are or maybe they aren’t, but it was clear that it was a biased presentation by one of the staff members. Why would he/she care so much to distort the data? So what if one (or more) of the YMCA board members sought to get on the committee that doles out scholarship money to city staff members? I think we then have much greater instances of skewed data and bad “staff recommendations” to appease those who are controlling whether a staff member’s child gets serious tuition aid.

    No, a city scholarship fund should either be open to children of all residents, or if it is limited to children of the staff, the recipients should be determined by people already part of the staff–not people who can be (further) influenced by people after their own personal and private gain. There’s far too much of that going on already.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 6:23 pm
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    UPDad,

    What is the part of Community League funding bonuses?

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  • July 26, 2012 at 8:44 pm
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    @CW,

    I agree with Rico, I DIG your passion. And I agree with you.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm
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    I read on this blog a year or so ago that the Community League (the PAC organization that picks candidates and promotes them for City Council and such) pays the city staff their year-end bonuses.

    If anyone has any more direct knowledge that this is or is not true, I’d love to hear about it. It seems kind of illegal to me.

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  • July 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm
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    @UPDad- Your conspiracy theories are wearing a little thin and so is your logic. Are you seriously suggesting that the parents or coworkers of potential scholarship recipients should serve on the committee that determines who gets the money?

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  • July 27, 2012 at 3:40 am
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    Unbelievable. I thought we killed this horrible idea last year.

    My interactions with city staff and police have been nothing but great over the years. But if I opt out of donating money to this badly managed scholarship fund, I don’t want them to know it.

    For those who care (and if you don’t specifically opt out I will assume you do care), here is part of the comment I made in April 2011:

    ****

    This sounds paranoid, but do we really want city employees to know which residents opted out of donating to a scholarship fund for their children? And would the list of donors be available through some sort of FOIA request?

    Good intentions, bad idea. …

    One more thing, and then I promise I will end my rant. Don Houseman donated $60,000 in 2009 to establish the scholarship fund. That is truly generous and very civic-minded. But within a year, the city gave a full third of it away. To quote Bradford, “The problem now, though, is how the city can keep this up.” You think? What did they expect when they gave away 33% of their founding principal in one year? Did Mr. Houseman expect his gift to fund a scholarship program with a three to four year life span, or (more likely) did he hope that more donations would come in and make the program more or less sustainable over the long term? If it was the latter, what does that say about the city’s stewardship of his donation? If the city wants to attract donors, they need to (if it’s not too late) use the leftover money to start a 501(c)(3) that can accept tax deductible contributions. Nickel and diming homeowners via guilt trip is not the solution.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 9:45 am
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    UPDad

    I appreciate your thoughts on issues of the day. Concerning your post above I want to make sure everyone is clear on two points.

    City “Bonuses”

    City staff members do not receive bonus pay. However, the Community League’s annual presents a $250 check to each one of four line employees who are named Employees of the Year. These four employees (Police, Fire, Administrative Support and Labor) are nominated by their peers. The nominations are then reviewed by Department Directors who make the final selections. Department Directors and Management Employees are not eligible for the award. I hope you will agree with me that $250 can’t buy any kind of influence or special treatment, especially given the caliber of employees the City has a tradition of hiring and retaining. Additionally, the employees who are eligible for this award are in decision/policy making positions or ones that make presentations to the Council or Committees.

    “Favoring” YMCA Expansion

    The community-wide map City staff present to the City Council during the July 17 Work Session displayed UP households that had communicated to the City by email, letter or postcard with a stated preference for or against the proposed expansion of the Park Cities YMCA. These communications were not solicited by any member of City staff. City staff readily acknowledges in this case, and in similar cases in the recent past (Chase Bank, various Church PDs) that many of these communications are the result of letter writing campaigns or petition efforts by those most engaged in the proceedings. This map. like those produced in the past are requested by the City Council. They are produced solely to indicate how many addresses have communicated with City Hall concerning the particular proposal. No bias is intended. I can see how someone may be left with that impression because this map was labeled “pulse of the community.” In the future this wording will not be used.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 10:16 am
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    In the above post, I should have included NOT “in decision/policymaking positions.”

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  • July 27, 2012 at 10:50 am
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    @Bob Livingston,
    Sorry, $250 (while not the lottery, is nothing to sneeze at) that these employees would not have otherwise will result in special treatment every single time. Whether it is inane or over-the-top is not relevant. Fact remains that those city employees are getting paid by an outside organization.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm
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    @Bob Livingston, thank you for that post. That was very helpful and reassuring. I do agree with you that the people who are eligible for this reward are not the ones that were concerning me. Still seems a little bit “not quite right” that a PAC is giving money to city employees, but you definitely eased my concerns on that. Coming from you, I know it is true and accurate (as an earlier comment I made on an unrelated topic illustrates).

    Still, I’ve seen enough council meetings and other meetings with city staff to wonder what causes many of the ones making recommendations to Council to act like they have such a personal stake in the outcome. Apparently, others who were at a meeting regarding the YMCA felt the same way.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm
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    @Rico, sorry that my theories are wearing thin. I’ll try to cut back. But I don’t think my logic is thin here. I’m not saying that the parents of the recipients would serve on the committee to choose the recipients. But I am saying they would feel pressured to “serve” those who are on the committee. If someone who is trying to get a zoning issue through gets himself/herself on the committee that determines who receives these scholarships, doesn’t that create an ability for that citizen to wield a little undue authority over an engineer who has a college-age child and is also making a recommendation to the Zoning board or to council?

    You may say that is unlikely, or you don’t believe it will happen. But the logic is not thin.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm
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    Mr. Livingston:

    This is a really strange situation. Like most of the other commenters, I’m for the idea idea of the scholarships, and would gladly contribute if asked, but to my knowledge I’ve never been asked. And now, I’m being told. Told that I’ll be involuntarily contributing unless I affirmatively opt out. I have a hard time believing this is legal. It’s equivalent to a tax imposed on me by my city in exchange for my having received nothing at all.

    Count me among the “let us opt in, not out” crowd, except I’ll go one step further and say please keep this entirely separate from our utility bill. What prevents Mad For Plaid (which I also support) from being rolled in next? This is not the way to collect contributions.

    Not to buy into any sinister ideas too heavily, but I have to agree with some of the above commenters that it’s an unfair burden on me, however slight, for my city staff to be able to see that I affirmatively declined to support a fund for their children. In one way or another, perhaps even subconsciously, that sort of information is going to have an effect. And maybe even in reverse. The next time my trash cans aren’t emptied, am I going to wonder, “Did my trash crew see the list?”

    The problem with this sort of approach is that no one wants to stand up and be seen as voting agasint something that sounds kind and positive. It’s like imposing a contribution to save bunnies, then making people opt out if they disagree. That leaves you open to others who will say, “What, you hate bunnies? You monster!”

    If you proceed in this manner, you will unfairly make those of us who feel this contribution is being imposed improperly feel like pariahs. It’s a kind-hearted but tremendously ill-thought-out idea, all the way around. Please reconsider.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm
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    @Bob Livingston, I hope you will show these comments to our mayor and council. I, too, was very surprised that it was an “opt out” donation and felt it to be coercive. Asking residents to tell you that they don’t want to contribute to an city employee scholarship fund is asking for trouble.

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  • July 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm
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    I actually think that the idea of using the utility bill as a contributing vehicle is not a bad idea. For the most part (excluding duplex and apartment rentals who do not pay the water bill), it’s the only bill that the entire city pays per month. If it was cleanly optin/optout, easy to change online, and 100% of the proceeds were directed to a specific cause or charity, then why not?

    I disagree with @Z just above me who asks “what prevents Mad for Plaid from being rolled in next”. Well, if it is truly opt-in/opt-out, and if I can designate how many dollars per month, then why not?

    Separate the donation vehicle (utility bill), the optin/optout problem, and the cause (employee kids scholarship) and it becomes much easier:

    – utility bill as a donation vehicle: debatable.
    – optin/optout: not much debate here. see comments from everyone else.
    – the cause: IMO, give me 20, 30, 40 options. I’ll pick the ones that I choose to support.

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  • July 28, 2012 at 9:13 am
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    No more guvment bureaucracy! If you want to donate to something get up and do it yourself. Don’t wait for the city to send you a letter or a utility bill, then expect them to keep track of the money. The city works with a fairly fixed amount of income (taxes). Who is going to pay for the added expense of keeping track of these new donations? Whats wrong with doing things the old fashioned way? Donate money if you want to and let the charity keep track of it!

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  • July 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm
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    for pete’s sake,
    there are plenty of
    seasoned citizens who
    won’t have any idea that
    50 cents has been added
    to their bill or that they
    have to opt out.
    or folks who are on the
    automatic bank draft program.
    in most places, this would
    be called taxation without
    representation, or even worse,
    socialism.

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  • July 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm
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    Whwn is the “list” coming out?

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  • July 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm
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    taxation without representation? come on man! all the 70-year old SMU Alumni that live in the city are represented quite well.

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