Vergennes clerk to run fund for city’s needy

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday dipped into a little-used city fund to help a needy nursing home resident, and also they also gave City Clerk Joan Devine greater authority in the future to use the money to give other deserving Vergennes residents a helping hand.
City Manager Mel Hawley told aldermen the Donnelly Fund was created in the 1940s in memory of former Vergennes resident John Donnelly. Started with $5,000, the fund was intended “to be used for the care of the worthy poor,” he said.
With interest, Devine — who is also the Vergennes service officer, meaning she helps the poor on the city’s behalf when necessary — told the council the Donnelly Fund now contained a little more than $16,000.
The fund came to aldermen’s attention earlier this month when Vergennes Residential Care Home registered nurse Karlene DeVine sent them a letter requesting $510.24 to help a home resident pay his tab at a local pharmacy.
The amount represented the man’s co-pay for needed drugs, DeVine said, and the pharmacy said it could no longer fill his prescriptions as of September if his tab was not paid.
Aldermen unanimously agreed to pay the bill, which Hawley said came to their attention because of a Donnelly Fund provision the city council passed two decades ago: Any pay-out larger than $500 needed council approval.
But Hawley said little else has happened to bring the fund before the council in recent memory, although it had been used in the past to buy winter clothing and mittens for city children.
“There really hasn’t been much activity in that account for years,” he said.
Aldermen agreed that status should change, and that Devine should have discretion. The only question became how much.
“Five hundred dollars really isn’t much if there is a hard time,” said Alderman Lowell Bertrand.
Alderman Randy Ouellette then moved to give Devine discretion to hand out funds, with the understanding that she would bring large or unusual requests to the council
“I believe Joan has been in this community and she can determine (an amount),” Ouellette said.
Devine said she, as the city’s service officer, already looks at whether those she deals with have other options available, such as home equity or other government programs, and whether their problems are self-inflicted, such as having instigated domestic violence.
“I have to look at ‘Do they have other resources available to them,’” Devine said.
Bertrand had the last comment before aldermen ended their discussion and handed the Donnelly Fund to Devine.
“I think Joan can be trusted to use the funds as she sees fit,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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