TN public utility rounding off customers’ bills, charging more for charity

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — If you live in Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford or Cannon counties it’s possible you’re donating regularly to several different charities and don’t even know it.

Under something called Operation Round Up, the public Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation rounds off its customers’ monthly bills to the next whole dollar amount and donates the difference to charity. In other words, if your bill is $49.25 you will pay an additional 75 cents for the charity of the utility’s choice.

Wilson County resident Dave Kirkey pays attention to his monthly bill and was already aware of the program when he spoke to Tennessee Watchdog Wednesday.

An example of a monthly bill that the Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation sends out. Operation Round Up charges are at the bottom of the bill.

Kirkey said he doesn’t mind the program, but he does have one concern.

“It’s all going to a good cause and not that much money to pay for some people, but it would be nice to at least have been asked,” Kirkey told Tennessee Watchdog. “My personal opinion is they would make even more money if they had a donation page instead.”

What about customers who live on tight budgets, for whom every penny counts?

MTE spokesman Josh Clendenen told Tennessee Watchdog those people have the option to not only opt out, but to request a full refund of 12 months.

Clendenen also said the utility makes customers aware of the program through regular literature it sends out.

So who are the charities receiving this money?

“It really depends,” Clendenen said. “Any charitable organization with the exception of schools and religious organizations are eligible.”

The utility’s board of directors decide who is eligible, according to MTEMC’s website. The website also said no one may use these funds for political purposes.

Among the numerous charities that have received money are food banks, museums, homeless outreach programs, senior citizen centers and business and education coalitions, according to the utility’s website. The program began in 2003, according to the utility’s website,

MTEMC donated $71,774 to charities in February, Clendenen said.

Of MTEMC’s 196,000 members, 141,244, or roughly 70 percent, participate in Operation Round Up, Clendenen said.

During fiscal year 2012-2013, MTEMC awarded $767,502.41 in grants to charities, he added.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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