By Sterling McGinn
The Newberry Village Council held their monthly meeting via Zoom on Tuesday, April 21 at 6:00 p.m. All members of the council participated as well as two members of the public; however, there were no comments from the public.
Interim Village Manager Allison Watkins gave a report on how the village is handling utility billing during the COVID-19 pandemic. “To date there has not been any money set aside or assigned to help local government utility providers cover the debt from unpaid utility bills during this time,” stated Watkins. “We continue to be told that increased unemployment amounts, funding to DHS type agencies and stimulus checks are how the state and federal government are assisting utility companies, and that those funds will be used to pay bills.”
Delinquent notices for February’s bills were sent to customers on March 16 with late fees included. “Red tags were scheduled to go out on March 26 and I chose to suspend them,” explained Watkins. “I did not want to cause any additional stress or concern within the community.”
Watkins stated that instead of issuing red tags to customers behind on payment, the staff called each account holder they could reach and encourage them to pay or to seek assistance if they couldn’t pay. The customers were also told they would not be shut off.
“We send out about 130 red tags a month, that usually goes down to about 10 to 20 actual shutoffs,” she said. “A lot of people use the red tags as reminders that they need to pay.” The shutoffs would have been scheduled for April 13, but were suspended until May 12.
Currently there is approximately $6,000 in lost revenue and a carry over of utility debt of $8,300 that would have been $0.00 if customer’s bills had been paid.
Delinquent notices for March bills went out on April 16 with no late fees. Red tags would go out on the 27. Watkins stated she would prefer to not make a decision on shutoffs until the first week of May. The suspension of shutoffs is not a forgiveness of debt; all customers will be required to pay past due amounts.
In other business, Watkins informed the council that the 2019 audit is still not completed and it may be done the week of April 27.
Also on the agenda was a resolution establishing rules of remote attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was approved. This also includes the Water and Light Board, Planning Commission and village committees.
The council adopted a proclamation for the Newberry nightly neighborhood nod. Village residents are encouraged to step out of their homes each evening at 6:30 to wave and visually check on neighbors.
“I think this is really great,” stated village president Lori Stokes.
“I agree, I think this is a good idea,” trustee Dennis Hendrickson said. “It’s sometimes difficult to get people out, but when the weather warms up, that will probably change.”
Other business that evening included the payment of Village and Water and Light bills.