Elizabethton City Council holds virus-free meeting to ease utility burden on laid-off workers

John Thompson • Mar 26, 2020 at 8:38 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The challenges and impacts made on lives and organizations have led to unprecedented actions in recent weeks and that continued on Thursday when the Elizabethton City Council held its first electronic council meeting.

All council members participated in the meeting except Wes Frazier, who had to be at his regular job. Only two council members came to City Hall for the meeting. The rest participated electronically through Zoom Internet Teleconference.

City Manager Daniel Estes said the emergency meeting was set up to provide relief for customers of the Elizabethton Electric Department and the Elizabethton Water Resource Department who have been laid off during the health crisis and are having trouble paying their electric, water and sewer bills.

Estes said city employees and staff did not have the authority to adjust customer accounts, even for such emergencies as COVID-19. The only alternative to receiving payment in full was for electric service or water service to be shut off. Estes said only the council had the authority to allow a change in the policy.

To enable the policy change, an ordinance was adopted for the water resources department and, because rate payments are governed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, a resolution was drafted for the electric department.

The ordinance gives the city manager the power to make adjustments in late fees, cut offs and installation fees, and the ability to delay the cut-off date of water/wastewater service. The ordinance does not give the city manager the power to adjust the underlying fee for water and sewer service. The power is limited in time and will expire on May 31.

The Electric Department noted the TVA had given local power companies the ability to waive late fees and make adjustments to payment schedules for electric service.

The council’s resolution gave the city manager the authority to develop electric department policies to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and its affect on the electric system’s customers ability to pay their bills. Like the ordinance on water, the resolution does not give the city manager the authority to adjust the underlying cost of electricity and also expires on May 31.

Both the ordinance and the resolution received unanimous votes. The single hearing was enough to bring the resolution into effect. The ordinance on the water rates must have a public hearing and second vote today at 11:30 a.m.

Although public access to City Hall is closed, the public may listen to the proceedings on Zoom International Teleconference. The live streaming can be accessed online at bit.ly/Elizabethton City Council or by calling 1-646-558-8656 and entering meeting ID 2666550108#.

Estes said the meeting was held in advance of next month’s regular council meeting because so may people needed financial relief due to the impact of the virus on so many jobs. He said the authority to hold such a meeting and the expedited public notice was made possible by Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 16, issued on March 20.

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