Chelan City Council goes remote

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Chelan City Council held its Tuesday night meeting on-line streaming the audio. Council members were at home while the essential staff, Mayor, City Administrator and City Attorney were in Council Chambers for this meeting.

The Council had a number of Corona Virus issues to cover including the following:

  • A Deferred Utility Payments Policy;
  • A policy for funding for certain Community Agencies during the pandemic
  • A Rate and Fee Resolution to waive cancellation fees at the RV Park during the crisis;
  • A policy on the Payment of Employee Wages and Benefits during the pandemic.
  • A policy on Telecommuting during the crisis; and
  • A policy relating to the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave Act.

Of interest to residents, the proposed policy on deferring utility payments during the crisis had a number of council questions after Finance Director Steve Thornton explained the policy to them. He told the council that the policy would eliminate late penalties and that that City would not disconnect any water, sewer or sanitation services during this period.

Thornton went on to say that at the end of the crisis, residents would be offered a payment plan to catch up with their utility charges. City customers would have up to five months to catch up.

Councilwoman Erin McCardle said she was concerned. “A large part of our community is out of work,” said McCardle. “This would not be the only bill they have to pay. We haven’t given them any rebound time.”

Councilman Tim Hollingsworth said he had the same concerns. “The utility bill would be one of the smaller bills they would have to pay, but I tend to agree with Erin,” said Hollingsworth. He also feels that the City is giving customers a pretty good deal. Councilman Ty Witt added that with the proposed payment period the customers are getting a pretty good deal. The Council passed the ordinance unanimously.

The next item on the agenda was a policy for emergency funding for community agencies like the Food Bank, Thrive and others who are already vetted by the City and being funded.

Thornton said the resolution was designed and written to provide the Mayor and City Administrator the authority to fund these agencies when they need it. “It is a pathway for agencies on our budget to get funded,” said Thornton. Thornton stated that there would be a requirement to have some reporting at the end of the crisis to see how the money was used.

McCardle asked if this policy extends beyond the end of the emergency timeframe? City Attorney Quentin Batjer replied that if was only emergency funding during the current crisis and is limited in its scope. Councilman Peter Jamtgaard said, “Once the emergency is over doesn’t mean that people are going back to work immediately.” He wanted to see this funding policy extend for 90 days out.

Councilman Ray Dobbs the council would be the ones to decide to extend the funding period. “When the President or Govenor says its over doesn’t mean its over for us.” Batjer replied that it would ultimately come back to the Council. This Resolution was passed unanimously.

The Parks Department offered a Rate and Fee Amended Resolution to waive cancellation fees and offer those people canceling the opportunity to re-schedule their visit to Chelan. “Customer loyalty has been earned over time,” said Paul Horne, the City’s new Park Director. Dobbs wanted to see the $5 credit card charge also waived. It was also passed unanimously.

There were other items on the Agenda that were passed by the Council. They can be seen on the City’s Civic Portal.

Mayor/Council Comments:

 John Olsen – “I just want to say that the senior group has been hit hard with COVID-19 issue.” The Senior Center has shut down, but is still delivering meals to seniors. Olsen said that the ReRun Store is a major funder of the Senior Center. “I think we are good for four to five months,” said Olsen.

Erin McCardle remarked that a weekly meeting was taking place on Thursday afternoons at 5:15 on ZOOM with all the agencies dedicated to helping the community and county get through this crisis. “Our business community is feeling very nervous,” she said. “The latest proclamation by the Governor has had a major impact on our business community.”

Ray Dobbs said that the buzz this past weekend has been about short term rentals. “People are advertising on Facebook that their rentals are Coronavirus free. I think the City needs to do something… somehow we need to see it (rentals) stopped.”

McCardle replied that the Govenor’s proclamation was very specific about that people were to stay at home and stay healthy. Batjer stated that he doesn’t see short term rentals as essential and that renting them could be construed as a gross misdemeanor, but that by contrast, the City has no enforcement available except for its code enforcer. “If we regulate STRs it wouldn’t do anything about rentals outside of the City.” Dobbs added that the Chamber and community needs to prohibit any marketing or advertising for Short Term Rentals. McCardle said the Chamber has stopped all of its Spring marketing.

Councilman Ty Witt added that the City has all the contact information for Short Term Rental owners and that the City should communicate to them. “Make some kind of threat that we could notify the authorities.” Dobbs asked if the City could revoke their business licenses. Batjer said that would have to come from the County.

Wade Ferris said the City has been working on what the Sheriff’s Department can do. Mayor Bob Goedde said he had been in communication with Chelan County Commissioner Doug England and the he said the County was working on the issue.

Tim Hollingsworth stated that Town Toyota Center has been taking a big hit, but taking the time to do some maintenance and helping warehouse some of the food items for Chelan and Douglas County’s foodbanks. “They have become a focal point of the crisis.”

Ty Witt said he wanted to make a quick comment on health issues and the communities ability to handle them. “Today we have only six positives, but we know it is coming. We are all eventually going to be exposed.”

Dr. Witt also said he is worried that by stopping normal procedures at the hospitals and clinics who already work on tight margins, that it could force the closure of up to three hospitals in the area. “If we can’t start doing our normal surgeries and right now we aren’t doing any surgeries,” said Witt. That could lead to hospitals not being able to cover payroll. “The only thing that is going to help this is some real money,” said Witt. “We need some funds that are taking the place of the workloads we are missing.”

Mayor Goedde stated that rural hospitals seem to be ignored. Goedde alsos said he is glad everyone is on board. “We are in this together. It is a good start.”

Ferris told the Council that he has been extremely impressed with all the hard work by staff and the council.

One other issue that came up was the City Parks. Paul Horne said that the plan was to keep the Chelan Parks open. “Keeping our parks open is critical,” said Horne. “People walk their dogs in front of the Parks office all the time.” He also said the Lakeshore RV Park and Golf Course are closed.

McCardle said she totally agrees with open spaces being open but is concerned with kids gathering to play basketball in the Park. “The PUD has started cordoning off their playground,” said McCardle. “We think about that all the time,” said Horne. “We are taking steps that entail larger signage and better signage.”

Hopefully the signage and staff walkthroughs of the recreational areas will help discourage groups gathering to play ball or skateboad at the skate park.

The meeting ended with Ferris stating that the upcoming Workshop is cancelled and the next Council meeting is up in the air at this time.

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