Cedar council addresses issue of utility payments during pandemic, Families First Coronavirus Response Act

In this January 2020 file photo, Cedar City staff and council members discuss an ordinance, Jan. 29, 2020, Cedar City | Photo By Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City

CEDAR CITY — The Cedar City Council meeting Wednesday was streamed live from the Heritage Center Theater following the recent decision to suspend public meetings in light of the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

Council members, city staff and participants were seated several feet apart to observe recommended social distancing guidelines.

Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards spoke to the decision to postpone all public hearings.

“Things are changing day by day” she said. “The public hearings, where we want the public to actually be able to come and be involved in the process, we’re going to push those off to a later date so that we can make sure that everybody gets their input but not in a way that jeopardizes the health of our community.”

Utilities policy and Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Councilman Scott Phillips asked what can be done to continue to be sensitive to those who might be in a delicate situation financially as a result of precautionary measures in place for the coronavirus.

City Manager Paul Bittmenn said city utilities are billed every 30 days, and shut off notices are not delivered until a resident is 60 days behind in payment. Bittmenn said penalties for nonpayment compound over time and suggested council members keep that in mind if they want to postpone shutting off utilities for the time-being.

This comes following a report Wednesday from St. George News on how other local utilities are addressing the situation.

Councilman Tyler Melling suggested that any shut-offs be postponed at least until May 1.

“If somebody’s behind now, and they have been for 60 days, odds are their economic situation isn’t improving anytime soon because of the (coronavirus) measures,” Melling said. “I don’t think we should be shutting off anyone’s water where their means of changing their financial situation are limited.”

Melling suggested that anyone who is on the list now should be given a grace period potentially until May 1, adding that residents should be notified that penalties are accruing.

Wilson-Edwards suggested postponing shut-offs and revisiting the issue on May 1.

“The one thing that is clear on this is that there is no certainty on dates,” she said. “We need some sort of a date, but realizing that date doesn’t have to be forever set in stone, that we can bring it back and revisit it.”

Councilman Craig Isom brought up the possibility of asking to hear from residents whose utilities are about to be shut off.

Wilson-Edwards said the current list of residents facing shut-offs likely were not impacted by COVID-19 precautions since those restrictions have occurred recently, but in April the residents facing shut-offs will more likely be affected by the precautions. Phillips suggested proceeding as normal and taking a closer look at the number of residents on the list next month and discussing what the city can do at that point.

City Attorney Tyler Romeril said the council recently amended city ordinance to limit penalties and allow residents to enter a contract with the city to pay back the bill.

“We could adjust the terms of that contract so those responsible citizens who want to come in and sign that — the payment could be very light for the first four or five months and then could get larger,” Romeril said.

Councilman Ron Adams suggested handling utilities on a case-by-case, month-by-month basis to reduce the potential for the city being taken advantage of.

The council decided to proceed as normal with shut-off notices for March and reevaluate the situation in April.

Romeril also discussed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was recently signed by President Donald Trump.

“The reasoning behind signing this into law is they don’t want employees to have to choose between getting a paycheck or taking time off because of coronavirus,” Romeril said. “In an attempt to give employees a little more leeway with leave time, they’ve structured this bill to allow two different avenues for leave.”

One of the avenues is the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows a city employee to take time off due a child who is no longer in school or daycare because of COVID-19. The first 10 days are unpaid, but employees can use existing leave time to fill in for that. Following 10 days, the federal law requires employers to pay up to two-thirds of their wages moving forward.

The second option is emergency paid sick leave, which grants every employee 80 additional sick leave days. Employees can only use the hours if they are subject to a quarantine, advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine, have symptoms of illness, have a person living with them who meets any of the previously listed requirements or have a child whose daycare or school is not currently operational.

Romeril said the federal law expires at the end of this year and would take effect April 1, but he suggested it be backdated to assist employees who may already be affected.

The council approved the adoption of this policy.

Other business

At Wednesday’s meeting, the council also voted to adopt the resolutions authorizing the Tax-Exempt General Obligation Aquatic Center, Storm Water Revenue and Water Revenue Refunding Bonds that were discussed during the previous meeting.

Amendments to the city ordinance allowing the use of city water outside city limits for livestock purposes that were discussed at the previous meeting were also approved Wednesday. Moving forward, the city will honor any current connections for livestock purposes but will no longer grant additional use of city water beyond city boundaries for livestock.

Cedar City Police Department Chief Darin Adams presented the March employee of the month, Sergeant J. R. Robinson.

Adams said Robinson serves as the administrative sergeant, which requires quality assurance of written reports within the police department.

“This job is taxing and of the utmost importance,” Adams said. “Sgt. Robinson does an excellent job keeping himself and officers trained on the ever-changing requirements from the state of Utah.”

Adams said Robinson was instrumental when the department had to transition from reporting systems. He developed a training system for all the officers to learn the new system and supervises the evidence and property room.

“Sgt. Robinson has a superior work ethic, and his knowledge surrounding our records management software is irreplaceable,” he said. “He is truly a credit to the Cedar City Police Department.”

Cedar City Fire Department Chief Mike Phillips also addressed the council and said the department’s new engine, which is capable of both structure and wild land firefighting, was parked next to the building for them to see and meet the 2019 Volunteer Recruit Academy graduates.

Recruit Academy instructor James Wood said it takes 14 months to complete the academy, and six individuals completed the requirements.

“They wouldn’t have done this without the family they have here tonight,” he said. “That’s a big part of it. They give up a lot of their family time and a lot of free time to come and help the community.”

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

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