Note: This story was last updated at 3:43 p.m.
The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday declared a local emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and agreed to suspend the disconnection of utilities for non-payments for up to 90 days.
The Council also agreed to let the Oak Ridge Electric Department work with ADFAC, a nonprofit organization, to supply $100,000 worth of utility aid to help residential customers. Customers would have to demonstrate that they were either laid off or had their work hours significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary utility policy applies to electricity, water, sewer, and garbage service. The city is not providing the services for free, so bills will continue to accrue even if they’re not being paid. Oak Ridge Electric Director Jack Suggs said the city will work with customers to make payments once life returns to normal.
“We expect this is going to be very hard on people,” Suggs told the Oak Ridge City Council during a 90-minute special meeting at noon Monday.
In a Thursday memo, Suggs said the nationwide measures taken so far to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have dramatically affected many people in Oak Ridge.
“Hotel occupancy has plummeted to historically low levels while restaurants and entertainment venues have closed or reduced hours and services,” Suggs said. “As a result, many of these enterprises are struggling to meet their financial obligations. Many employees in these industries have been laid off or had their working hours slashed to levels where they are financially unable to meet their basic financial obligations.”
Complicating the situation: Schools have closed, meaning children are at home, sometimes by themselves, and social service agencies have closed.
Suggs said most utilities in the area have suspended disconnects for non-payment for now.
“This is done in recognition that persons who are confined at home, and especially those with children, require utilities for their continued health and welfare. This is an issue not only for the individual, but also for the community at large. The same thing can be said about the shutdown of commercial or industrial accounts. While the loss of one business is a tragedy, the loss of several accounts is a community disaster.”[Read more…]