Council debates waiving late fees on water, sewer

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Council spent much of its Dec. 14 meeting debating whether or not to waive late fees on water and sewer, but the matter never came to a vote.

Council member Harry Meyer brought the issue to the table, saying light and gas companies have all waived some fees. Meyer acknowledged the city’s moratorium on the I&I fee, which council member Susan Harman said adds $10 to every residential water bill and $50 to every commercial water bill. Still, Meyer said, he wanted to see the council vote to waive late fees on all water and sewer bills.

“It’s the late fees that hit the people who are not making the kind of money they have made because of the [COVID-19] restrictions,” Meyer said. “The people that live on tips are not getting that kind of dough. They are just barely making it, and I think it would be good just to waive that fee.”

Harman asked if the city has seen a lot of late fees on water and sewer bills, and Mayor Butch Berry said it’s been more or less the same.

“There may be a little more. It’s not exactly the same,” Berry said. “It’s a little higher, but not abnormal.”

Council member Melissa Greene said she’d support waiving the fees until April 1.

“We’ve had a great year but it is really slowing down and COVID is still going strong until we get the vaccine,” Greene said. “Maybe in March, it’ll start up again. Hopefully these people and our restaurants are back and they can get back on their feet, but this could be a tough winter.”

Berry said waiving the late fees could be problematic for the city.

“Part of the problem of waiving the late fee is they just tend not to pay the water bill,” Berry said. “At some point in time, the water needs to be shut off if they don’t pay it.”

Meyer said the CDC predicted that 3,000 people per day will die of COVID-19 over the next 90 days, saying there will be no improvement for the next four to six months.

“This pandemic is really taking its toll and Carroll County is in the top three of new cases,” Meyer said. “I think it’s only right that we give a break to our working people in town who have been struggling all summer long.”

Harman said the real question is whether or not the city will be busy in the winter and spring.

“I know that the restaurants have been hit because they’re at a lower percentage than what a lot of the other businesses are, so I completely understand that,” Harman said to Meyer. “I just don’t know how the number you said correlates to the actual business that will be here in Eureka Springs.”

Council member Terry McClung said residential late fees are $3-$5, comparing it to the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

“Maybe we’re just pulling and pushing on something that really is not substantial enough to make the difference,” McClung said.

“And if it’s not substantial enough to make a difference, then we might as well waive it,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he’d like to make a motion and council member Mickey Schneider interrupted him, saying the council already voted on a motion to discuss the idea of waiving the late fees.

“You can talk about it and then you can make a motion,” Meyer said. “I make a motion that we waive late fees on water bills until the springtime.”

Meyer’s motion failed for lack of second.

Earlier in the meeting, council member Bob Thomas said he’d like the council to pass a motion to ask the hospital commission to always meet where other commissions meet, in the City Auditorium. Berry said he wasn’t sure the council could do that and city attorney Tim Weaver said it would be OK for the council to make such a request.

“But we can’t dictate and tell them they have to,” Weaver said.

Berry said he didn’t have a problem asking the commission to meet at The Auditorium.

“I don’t think we need to have a motion. Just ask and I’ll be glad to ask them,” Berry said. “If we make a motion, that’s more of a dictation.”

Harman said the council already addressed the issue “not even a year ago.”

“The main concern was over the recording of the actual meeting, because now we’re using the temporary stick and it’s hard to … understand who’s talking,” Harman said. “Do you know of a particular reason why they can’t meet where everyone else meets?”

“I have no idea,” Berry said. “I’d have to ask. I don’t know.”

Harman moved for Berry to ask the commission why they don’t meet in The Auditorium and the council unanimously voted in favor of the motion.

At the end of the meeting, Berry said the council might not meet on Dec. 28 if nothing is on the agenda. That prompted Thomas to add to his final comments, saying it would be his last meeting on the council if the Dec. 28 meeting is canceled. Thomas said he and Schneider both voted to approve the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance in 2015. The Dec. 28 meeting would be Schneider’s last meeting on the council, too.

“I would really like the new council just to take a vote on a reaffirmation of the commitment to nondiscrimination here in the city,” Thomas said. “For the last four years, that particular LGBT group has had every right they’ve gained over the past 20 years threatened and it would be … a good thing for the citizens.”

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