Sackville Town Council has approved a number of measures, including a $20 rebate on water and sewer bills, to help residents cope with the financial stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s just a way of giving people a break during this very tumultuous time,” Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken told his council colleagues during their first-ever online council meeting Monday night.
Aiken said the $20 rebate applies to water and sewer bills from January 1st to March 31st. Those bills were delayed because of the pandemic, but are due to be mailed out next week.
All of the town’s 2,000 water and sewer accounts will benefit from the $20 rebate.
“That would put…about $40,000 back into the taxpayers’ pockets during these tough times,” Treasurer Michael Beal told council.
He added that the town will cover the cost by subtracting $40,000 from its $160,000 contribution this year to a reserve fund that is meant to pay for sewage lagoon upgrades due by 2040.
Town Council also approved extending the time to pay current water bills from 30 to 60 days, with no interest penalty. The new 60-day payment schedule will also apply to the 10% seniors’ discount. In addition, council voted to waive interest payments on overdue accounts during April and May and to suspend cutting off water for residents who have failed to pay their bills until at least June 30th.
Finally, dog owners will not be required to purchase 2020 tags until further notice, a potential saving of $20 for a spayed and neutered pet and $40 for an un-spayed, un-neutered one that is over a year old.
Monday’s online council meeting was the first for Jamie Burke in his new role as the town’s Chief Administrative Officer.
In his report to council, Burke said the town has been adjusting to the current state of emergency as both staff and residents follow the advice of public health authorities.
“It has not been business as usual for the town,” Burke said. “Despite the unprecedented times, we continue to deliver essential services to the community.”
Councillor Bill Evans welcomed Burke.
“I feel we are in really good hands with Jamie and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity,” he said.
Evans also paid tribute to outgoing CAO Phil Handrahan.
“He gave us lots of notice and he extended his departure date so that he could help us,” Evans said. “I don’t know if he knew what he got into, but he spent a lot of time when he could have been out golfing, helping us deal with COVID.”
Phinney’s COVID story
Meantime, Councillor Bruce Phinney revealed he had been tested for COVID-19 and urged others to get tested too.
“For those people who think they may have symptoms, don’t feel like you need to sit back and wait to have an invitation,” Phinney said.
He told his council colleagues that he called 811 after work on a Friday afternoon to report feeling ill.
He said that health practitioners responded promptly and scheduled an appointment for him to be tested the next morning in Moncton.
“Then I got a call Sunday morning at about 8:30 giving my results saying that I was negative,” Phinney said.
“That’s how fast and efficient these people are and they’re recommending that if you’re not sure or if you’re feeling bad, go and have the testing done.”
Phinney said later during a telephone interview that he worried he was potentially contagious and could spread the virus.
“It would have devastated me, giving it to someone else,” he added. “The negative test gave me peace of mind.”
Phinney appeared to be the only councillor who was not at home or in an office as he participated in the meeting.
He explained that he has no Internet service at home, so he parked his car in the town hall parking lot, ran an extension cord to an outside electrical outlet, and spoke to council on his laptop over the town’s WiFi signal.
“Other municipalities give councillors a tablet or cell phone, but not here in Sackville,” he said, pointing out he hasn’t been allowed to enter the town hall building since March 24.
“It was getting really cold in my car during the meeting,” he said, adding that so far, no one has shown any inclination to help him participate in online meetings more comfortably.