Unity Township sewage ratepayers will continue to not face penalties, fees, interest or liens on late payments under the circumstances spurred by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
At its meeting Wednesday, the Unity Township Municipal Authority (UTMA) discussed plans to not charge customers on late payments until after Westmorland County enters the green phase of Pennsylvania’s reopening plan.
“It seems fair to try to not hit people too hard with any penalties until everybody is back to work,” operations manager Doug Pike said.
Pike noted that while penalties aren’t being applied, ratepayers will still be required to pay their bill in total.
The UTMA also tabled action involving filing liens against residential and commercial customers for nonpayment until its June meeting.
A lengthy discussion took place at the UTMA meeting, held via teleconference, which involved the procedure to apply a lien. The board proposed applying liens to residential balances over $1,000, and to commercial balances over $5,000.
A lien would be filed at the courthouse against an outstanding balance for a fee of roughly $430. The UTMA board then discussed whether the filing fee should be added to the customer’s bill, or the UTMA should absorb the cost.
However, no decision was made at Wednesday’s meeting.
“Right now the policy is going to be we are not going to file any additional liens this month,” Pike said following the meeting. “Come the June board meeting, the board will make the decision to file liens and if so, at what dollar amount.”
With some businesses unable to operate amid current state restrictions, treasurer Paul Upson raised the question: “How are they supposed to come up with this money?”
In other news, the board discussed a change to the UTMA’s developers agreement that ensures its equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) capacity is protected. The change allows for the UTMA to set a date in the agreement requiring developers to use approved EDUs before said date, unless the board decides to renew them.
“In general, there wouldn’t be any reason not to extend that, but if we got a point where we were up against capacity issues, we would have termination dates in those contracts,” Pike said.
Pike noted that the current rate would apply for when tap-ins are purchased.
In his manager’s report, Pike discussed possibly security upgrades to the UTMA office building near Pleasant Unity. A study proposing upgrades and cost projections was done by Lennon, Smith, Souleret Engineering Inc.
The study recommended security camera upgrades, an emergency egress door, and upgrades to the building’s vestibule area — including ballistic materials installed to the glass and doors.
“The biggest issue was the vestibule area, where customers can come in and pay at the service window,” Pike said. “...You would come into one small area that would be pretty secured from the rest of the building.”
The UTMA board motioned for Pike to prepare a bid package for the security upgrades.
Kevin Brett, of Lennon, Smith, Souleret Engineering, said other municipalities have taken similar security measures to provide protection to their employees.
While UTMA projects have slowed amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pike noted that the Donahoe Road sewer line extension project is complete, and letters have been sent notifying residents and businesses that they can tie in.
Customers will have 180 days to tie in, compared to the norm of 90 days.
“We gave them 180 (days), under the circumstances, to get connected,” Pike said.
The UTMA plans on sending another letter regarding right of way agreements, but is waiting to meet with county officials to ensure it is eligible for grant money.
In other business, the authority board:
- Heard from Pike who said 17 new customers had enrolled in the authority’s online billing system as of last check, bringing the total to 961. Pike encourages more customers to take advantage of the ability to pay their bills online;
- Heard from Pike who said UTMA employees have been wearing masks, maintaining social distancing as much as possible, and continuing to monitor and implement changes based on state requirements in an effort to stay safe during the pandemic;
- Approved hiring two summer interns at the UTMA office when it is deemed safe in light of the pandemic;
- Approved an annual contract for GoToMeeting, the service currently the UTMA is currently using for online meetings.