Cedar City Council discusses COVID-19 resources, bonds and watering ordinance revision during meeting

This Febuary 2020 file photo shows Cedar City Council members discussing ordinance revisions and water use, Cedar City, Feb. 26, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY —  While the Cedar City Council has not moved to remote or strictly online meetings – or canceled them outright – as is being seen in other Southern Utah cities, Wednesday’s meeting did feature unconventional seating arrangements to maintain distance between council members and city staff.

The meeting also offered more updates and resources for residents regarding the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

Councilman Tyler Melling acknowledged the necessity of measures and restrictions that have been put in place regarding COVID-19 but also expressed concern for working families.

“We also need to recognize that many of these same measures that will protect those over 60 are also putting working families at greater risk of unemployment, economic hardship and the accompanying social issues of domestic violence, drug abuse and suicide,” Melling said, “and I think (we need to) recognize that and keep that in mind as we move forward with our responses.”

Melling said the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce has created the Cedar City WorkMo (Work Mobilization) Facebook group to help support those whose jobs have been affected by precautions taken for the virus.

A screenshot of the Cedar City WorkMo Facebook group, March 19, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

“I would encourage those who have had their business or their livelihood somehow affected to reach out in that capacity and find ways to either lift others up through the mentorship program that’s on there or to participate and receive some help from that,” Melling said.

Councilman Scott Phillips also acknowledged the impact suggested procedures will have on rural areas.

“I wanted to thank the mayor and staff for their great work in trying to keep our community and citizens updates because as you all know this is changing hourly and momentarily,” Phillips said. “I think we’ve tried to be calm and cautious in our responses and trying to be fair at the same time, but it is going to have an enormous impact on the rural areas.”

Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards also provided information on resources and updates regarding the virus, starting with the availability of tests.

“There are tests, but there is a procedure to get to that,” she said. “The first step is to call either a health care provider (or) the Connect Care telehealth system, or the health department has a new phone number. They will do the initial conversations with individuals. They can provide next steps if individuals meet whatever their certain health criteria is.”

Wilson-Edwards also said the Southwest Utah Public Health Department has the most up-to-date information on its website and Facebook page, and no cases of COVID-19 have occurred in Iron County.

She added that the hospital is still seeing several cases of the flu and encouraged maintaining health precautions for flu season as it is still in full swing. The hospital is also not allowing those under the age of 18 into the facility, unless seeking treatment.

“None of these are things that the city’s instituting, but these are things that are affecting our residents,” she said.

Cedar City’s website homepage features a direct link to COVID-19 updates, screenshot March 19, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

Wilson-Edwards briefly addressed Gov. Gary Herbert’s order to close restaurants and bars, explaining that enforcing the declaration is the health department’s jurisdiction, but some businesses may still offer take-out or similar services.

“If you are in a position where you can still support our local restaurants, our local businesses, I know they are going to be hurting and will greatly appreciate (it),” she said.

She also commended city staff for suggesting that cleaning and maintenance of city facilities get taken care of in the event of closures.

“It was really quite rewarding to see our staff come to us and say, ‘During this time, if we’re closing down, can we do maintenance can we fix up our facilities so when we reopen its a better experience for the public?'” she said. “We have phenomenal staff.”

Updates regarding the city’s procedures and links to more information can be found on the city’s website.

Business as usual…mostly

Besides addressing COVID-19, staff and council members discussed refinancing the general obligation bond on the Aquatic Center during Wednesday’s meeting. City Manager Paul Bittmenn explained that refunding the bond serves two purposes.

The bond was first agreed to under the Obama Administration with the promise from the federal government to subsidize the interest rate. Bittmenn said the full amount of the subsidy was never realized, and the city now has an opportunity to refinance the bond and save some money.

“All of the savings on this bond would be passed on to your taxpayers in the form of a reduced future general obligation payment,” Bittmenn explained. “It’s not going to save the city a nickel, but it is going to save the taxpayers some money to do this, and that is why we’re suggesting it.”

Bittmenn also discussed refinancing a Storm Water Revenue Refunding Bond and a Water Revenue Refunding Bond to achieve savings. The storm water bond is paid through user rates and has been previously used to do storm drain improvements.

“Again there’s an opportunity to lower the rates on these bonds,” he said. “We’re not extending the payments, we’re not extending the time, we’re just lowering the rates to save a little bit of money.”

Bittmenn said the water revenue bonds were used to replace outdated infrastructure, and the same opportunity of lowering the rate of the bond is available.

The council also discussed an amendment to City Ordinance Chapter 37 regarding the use of city water outside city limits. City Attorney Tyler Romeril explained that the city ordinance currently allows for the use of city water outside city limits for livestock purposes, with the intent to discourage livestock within city limits, but recently the council denied such a request. Romeril said he reviewed the ordinance and made revisions to potentially outdated language.

“I struck out any language that I didn’t feel was applicable anymore,” Romeril said. “The first section deals with watering outside the city limits. It says we’re going to continue to honor those water connections that we provide to residential and commercial customers. Then in the next section I’ve changed that a bit to deal with the use restrictions for existing livestock watering outside the city limits.”

The suggested amendments also include removing Chapter 37, Section 22, Paragraph J, which details the allowance of the use of city water outside city limits for livestock. However, existing connections for livestock watering will still be honored.

The items will be on next week’s action agenda. As previously reported by Cedar City News, the City Council will continue to hold live meetings, but online participation from the community is being encouraged.

Information about closures and online services related to COVID-19 can be found at the Cedar City website, as well as a link to the live stream of the City Council meeting.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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