City of Lincoln discusses Coronavirus - Sewer bills, restaurant parking, tax revenues, use of toilet paper, and next meeting

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[March 19, 2020]  At the Monday night meeting of the Lincoln City Council, there were items discussed not on the agenda, regarding the city’s official response to the Corona Virus.

At the end of the night, aldermen discussed a few issues including what to do about late payment fees on the sewer accounts.

In the city of Lincoln, the first day after the sewer bill is due for payment a $5 late payment fee is assessed on each account. If an account remains unpaid, then a $25 late fee is assessed each month until the bill is paid.

Aldermen discussed the fairness of the $5 late payment fee in light of the fact that City Hall is closed to the public, coupled with the Illinois Governor and CDC suggestions that the elderly especially avoid public contact during this time.

It was mentioned that because of this, making a timely payment may be difficult for certain members of the local population.

By nod of the head, aldermen agreed that the $5 fee should be waived for the time being but NOT the $25 fee.

City Clerk Peggy Bateman noted that there are some customers who pay cash for their bills. She said on Monday, with Lincoln City Hall closed, there had been some who had come to the door and then called the clerk’s office to say they were there with a payment. Clerk staff had gone to the door and accepted the payment. She said this was working out alright.

She also noted that for those who are paying with check or money order, they can use the drop box that is located right in front of city hall on the corner facing McLean Street.

No special parking spaces for restaurants

Tracy Welch said he had been contacted by a restaurant owner downtown who wondered if the city could help designate some of the downtown parking areas for food pick-up only.

The Governor has ordered that all dine-in areas of restaurants be closed. However, restaurants may offer carry out options for their patrons. To accomplish this in the downtown area, eateries are to meet patrons at their door or at the patron vehicle. Welch said that with a curb-side service downtown, there were safety issues that concerned some of the restaurant owners.

However, the city authorities thought that setting up designated parking areas would be difficult and not all that helpful. Steve Parrot said that customers can walk up to the front door of an establishment from wherever they park and receive their food order. He didn’t see that designated parking was needed.

Mayor Seth Goodman said he didn’t know how the city would accomplish or enforce designated parking. Signage would be needed on the parking spots and then someone would have to make sure that the spaces were only being used by restaurant patrons picking up orders.

The topic was not part of the regular agenda Monday night so there was no vote taken. By nod of the head, aldermen agreed that the city would not designate parking at this time.

Only flush toilet paper

City Sewerage Treatment manager Andrew Bowns said that it was important that people understand that the city sewer system and the waste treatment facility is not equipped to handle materials other than toilet paper and waste.

There have been concerns expressed about the shortage of toilet paper as the Corona Virus continues. If toilet paper is not available, can consumers use other paper products as a substitute? Bowns said that other paper products should not be flushed down toilets.

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Conzo says be prepared for tax revenue reductions

Earlier in the evening, as part of the agenda, City Treasurer Chuck Conzo had delivered his monthly report on the city’s income. As part of that report he urged aldermen and department heads to be mindful of what is going to happen to some of the city’s tax revenues as a result of the Corona Virus.

The state has suspended video gaming for the time being. This is going to have a solid impact on the tax revenue for the state as well as for the city. Conzo said that this is a revenue source that will bounce back when this pandemic is over, but in the meantime, the city should be aware that it is a loss of revenue that will impact the bottom line.

The city can also expect temporary reductions in sales taxes as people do stay home and shop only as needed.

A catch-22 is the reduction of the cost of gasoline. Conzo said that typically the drop in gas price will lead to increased travel. Because the Motor Fuel Tax is assessed per gallon instead of per dollar, the city could have enjoyed a little increase in Motor Fuel Tax. However, that may or may not be the case at this time. Conzo said that maybe some who are housebound would get out and just take a drive to get out of the house a while, but overall, there will probably be less travel.

On the whole, Conzo urged the city officials to be very careful of their spending at this time. He added that those who are working on the budget for fiscal year 2020-21 should also take this into consideration.

March 24th meeting reset to March 31st

Kevin Bateman said that considering that March is a five Monday month and also five Tuesday’s, he would suggest that the council reschedule next week’s meeting scheduled for Tuesday March 24th. He said with five Tuesdays, perhaps the council should move that last Committee of the Whole meeting to Tuesday March 31st.

Aldermen agreed to do so, but also discussed digital and video meetings.

The Governor has placed a moratorium on the Public Meetings Act, saying that during this time government meetings normally subject to the Public Meetings Act could be held via digital or video conferencing.

The city does have a provision for video or teleconferencing within its statutes. However, it calls for there to be members present in city hall for the meeting. Those members then vote as to whether or not to permit teleconferencing or video conferencing of a particular absent member.

Aldermen talked about how they would go about doing a full attendance meeting via video conferencing. Lincoln Police Chief Paul Adams said that through their web service the city can purchase a package that would permit all the aldermen to be connected via their laptops, in a secure fashion. The additional cost for this service would be $3 per month.

The conferencing does limit public access to the meetings, and would by its nature lack transparency. Aldermen are not interested in putting the city in that position at this time.

The next meeting of the Lincoln City Council will be held on Tuesday, March 31st at 7 p.m. The meeting is open to the public, but the public is encourage to instead watch the meeting via live streaming on the city website.

[Nila Smith]

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