LAVERGNE, Tenn. – The Smyrna-LaVergne Assistance Coalition is a non-profit used to helping thousands pay utility and water bills, but now that helping hand has come up empty and a local alderman is using money from his own pocket to help.
Richard Leslie lives off his social security to help support his family of 10, two daughters and seven grandchildren.
"I have a mortgage. I try to contend with. You pay that mortgage and you don't have a whole lot let over," said Leslie.
Leslie says things got extremely hard when property taxes, water and sewer rates increased in 2011.
To get help paying bills, Leslie turned to Smyrna-LaVergne Assistance Coalition, SLAC.
"We assist that comes to us that need help with their utilities; meaning, their water, sewer and electric bills," said SLAC board member and volunteer Nancy Homes-Grooms.
After more than 30 years SLAC is feeling the hit of tough times, as this non-profit runs out of financial assistance for families living in LaVergne.
"It's gotten bad enough that in the last few weeks we've had to put a sign in the door that [reads], if you are a LaVergne resident, we are no longer able to help you," said Holmes-Grooms.
She says it's heartbreaking to tell families they cannot help, because the money isn't available.
In January, Holmes-Gross says the account balance for LaVergne families was only $7.96.
She says she made it a point to go out into the community and ask friends and business owners for donations to help.
In that group of donors, Alderman Dennis Waldron.
"Money is tight," said Alderman. "We [city of LaVergne] have been in a deep recession since I've been elected.
Waldron says he is the only Alderman that voted against the increase in 2011. He says he felt it would have been easier for citizens if the increase were 10% each year.
"I felt like LaVergne could have tightened their belt a little bit tighter than most citizens on a fix income," said Waldron.
He adds,"They tell me, 'we have the choice now to pay utility bills or buy groceries or buying our medicine."
The LaVergne Board of Mayor and Alderman voted to raise property taxes by 50%, water by 40% and sewer by 60%. The increase for water increase 3% and sewer 6% until 2016.