Help is on the way for Westerville residents who might need financial assistance for parks and recreation fees, utilities, sidewalk maintenance and residential improvements.

Christa Dickey, Westerville's community-affairs director, said the WestervilleHelps initiative is an expansion of a program that brings resources together.

"We want residents to know these resources are available," she said.

Dickey said financial assistance for parks and recreation programming has been available to residents since the 1980s.

Managed by the Westerville Parks Foundation, eligible uses of financial assistance include registration fees, daily passes, classes and recreation-facility passes, according to information provided by the city.

The foundation raises funds annually, primarily through the Bunny Hop 5K, to support the program, which is available to residents via an application process online all year at westerville.org/helps.

Dickey said funding assistance for home improvements, utilities and sidewalk maintenance is new.

"There are pieces of the program that have existed before, but financial assistance hasn't existed before," she said.

JR Fourquean, utility-billing supervisor and WestervilleHelps program manager, said utility bills will be mailed the last week of February and will include a place on the bill for customers who want to help Westerville residents who are facing utility shut-offs.

Customers should look for "Opt-in $1 per month" on their March bills, Fourquean said.

"We roughly have 17,000 utility bills we send out a month," Fourquean said. "Usually, 600 to 700 are delinquent, and 150 residents a month (face) shut-off."

Before customers reach the shut-off list, Fourquean said, the city provides outside sources for assistance.

"We get quite a few calls asking how to help people," he said. "Now we can accept those funds and put them where they need to go."

Assistance of $500 per calendar year may be used for one month or to cover several months with the funding coming from the new opt-in program.

Residents must meet the federal poverty guidelines for the National School Lunch Program to apply.

Bryan Wagner, code-enforcement supervisor, said the city previously offered an opportunity for homeowners to place an assessment on their taxes over five years for sidewalk maintenance.

"Staff and council wanted to explore some other assistance opportunities," he said. "We linked up with Whitehall that had a sidewalk-assistance program. Westerville's mirrors their program. In addition to have the cost assessed interest-free over five years, now there's a second option."

As an option, a homeowner may choose to have the city make the repairs and provide reimbursement upon receipt of an invoice or may make repayment over a five-year period with no interest as a property-tax assessment, according to Wagner.

WestervilleHelps is offering a credit to eligible property owners of up to 50% of the sidewalk-replacement costs up to a maximum of $1,500 that would come from the city's general fund.

The application deadline is April 1 for sidewalk maintenance assistance.

Wagner said WestervilleHelps also is offering assistance for residential improvements to residents in need.

The goal is to address problems to the exterior of a house before they reach the code-enforcement process, Wagner said.

Eligible property owners would be able to receive reimbursement of renovation expenses up to 50% of a $10,000 exterior house-remodeling project, with a maximum of $5,000.

Qualifying reimbursements include windows, doors, porch and/or patio remodeling and construction, siding, landscaping, lighting, handicap ramps and exterior painting.

"The city's goal, when it receives a complaint about the condition of someone's house, is to identify it in its infancy," Wagner said. "Although the home-improvement program is new, the city has tried to link the resident to resources in the community. Franklin County has a Seniors Options program, and there's a component that has a home-repair service."

For Westerville residents who live in Delaware County, he said, the county has a similar program that is equivalent to Senior Options in Franklin County.

"In the past, the city tried to link residents to resources," Wagner said. "This is to provide additional resources for people in need."

About 500 sidewalk panels were identified as deficient in the 2020 sidewalk-maintenance program, and approximately 90 panels are the responsibility of the homeowner, Dickey said. Approximately 90% of homeowners choose the city's contractor for the work, she said.

Specific details can be found at tinyurl.com/rae2hcs.

For additional information about WestervilleHelps, email askutilitybilling@westerville.org, go to westerville.org/helps or call 614-901-6436 and ask for Fourquean.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla