The Powell City Council held a special meeting Thursday, passing three changes to city operations related to COVID-19 — including allowing additional leniency for utility customers who miss payments.
“These are different times,” said Mayor John Wetzel.
The city suspended utility disconnects for the month of April. Without the decision, the city would have started sending out letters on delinquent accounts on Monday. Then in mid-April, the city would have scheduled disconnects or load limiters, which allow people to maintain heat while restricting their usage.
“This is not a forgiveness program. All amounts billed at some point would be due,” City Administrator Zack Thorington explained during the meeting.
These accounts that would have gone through the disconnect process are also having the $50 delinquent fees waived, which is about $1,500 in revenue the city won’t receive.
Additionally, the council voted to waive late fees on all accounts, which will cost the city approximately $13,000 in revenue.
Speaking after the meeting, Kaela Nelson, finance director, explained the council wanted to provide time for federal or state aid to reach Powell residents.
“All bills are still due and payable, so if people are able to make their normal monthly payment, they should. Staff will monitor the city’s cash flows and receivables closely,” Nelson said.
The council also voted to suspend credit card processing fees. Since city hall is closed to the public, which limits the ability for customers to pay bills and fees with cash, the city won’t charge the credit card processing fees when people pay their bills. Customers can also mail checks and money orders, or put them in the alley dropbox.
The council also made a temporary change in policy as to how city employees can utilize the sick leave bank. The employees have the option of signing up for and contributing to a bank, which can then be used by any employee who donated their time. Normally, a city employee has to exhaust all their personal sick leave time, as well as all vacation time, before they can tap into the bank.
“It’s hours they’ve been giving up through the years,” Thorington said at the meeting.
The council voted to pass a resolution that, until May 1, suspends the requirement employees exhaust vacation time before they can utilize bank time.
“This is really for those individuals that are starting out with the city, don’t have a lot of sick leave built up, the ones with younger families,” Thorington told the council.
This doesn’t cost the city anything, as the bank is an existing obligation that Thorington said is “maxed out” and “very sufficient” to cover any sick time that comes up as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
Councilor Lesli Spencer asked if a month was enough time for the program, and the council agreed to consider extending it, if needed, at its second regular meeting in April.
Councilor Steve Lensegrav wondered if it would cover an employee who needs to be quarantined after taking international vacations. While the wording of the resolution is based on federal guidelines and such a quarantine would be classified as related to COVID-19 pandemic, Thorington pointed out that, with so much travel suspended, the situation is unlikely to come up while the program is running. Thorington also has to sign off on requests for sick time, which allows some oversight over how it’s used.