By Chris Frost
Oxnard— The Oxnard City Council tabled an urgency waiver resolution during its Feb. 5, meeting, as the group wishes to tighten up the action and review it at a later date.
The item would allow customers to make late payments to the city without penalties under certain urgent circumstances.
City Treasurer Phillip Molina said he is asking for an amendment of an existing resolution and city code 2242 establishes that he can identify the time for utility bill payments and also identifies the number of days between the time a bill is mailed and becomes delinquent.
“What it doesn’t provide is a specific ability to establish a waiver of the penalties which I think we did about a year ago, so in certain circumstances, you authorized me to provide a one-time, in a lifetime, waiver of a late penalty,” he said. “Recently, as we’ve gone through a federal government shutdown, people were required to work without getting paid.”
Through its due diligence, he said there were 30 customers directly impacted by the shutdown identified as members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Those Coast Guard employees worked during the shutdown, but were not paid,” he said. “Additionally, we have other agencies like the FBI, the National Weather Service and we have members of the community who work for both of those organizations.”
He asked the council to add two paragraphs to the currently approved resolution.
“The paragraphs would state, under certain urgency situations, the city manager, upon notifying the city council, would allow customers to make late payments on debts owed to the city without penalty for up to three months that a certain circumstance does exist,” he said. “We don’t know if there are going to be other federal government shutdowns in the future. This would provide us the opportunity, should that happen, that the city manager and I would work together and provide to the council the information needed to ask to give these federal government employees affected the ability to delay their payments without a penalty.”
Military Officers’ Association President and former Navy Captain Phil Huber said they recognized they weren’t getting paid when the government shut down.
“On Jan. 16, I took a check over, we were matched with the local Navy League, and the Coast Guard had already responded to 16 search and rescues,” he said. “On that day, they towed a 41-foot sailboat into Santa Barbara.”
The Coast Guard responded to 68 calls for service on Jan. 16, he said, and wondered what the local law enforcement would do without pay.
“I will tell you they are humble, proud and wanted to do their job and wanted to stay focused on their mission, but knew they weren’t going to be able to make their rent, gas or food,” he said. “We did raise a lot of funds to help them get through it.”
Councilman Bryan MacDonald said the city must align with state law on the item.
“SB998 just went into effect and mandates that water systems can’t cut the water off to anyone any shorter than 60 days,” he said. “After 60 days, they have to make sure they contact that person and try and work it out.”
Molina said accounts that are current and in good standing get the opportunity for an extension.
MacDonald said Molina is correct about the medical provision that keeps the city from cutting off the water, but there is a separate provision that says water services cannot be cut off until 60 days past due.
“Even after 60 days, they still need to make every effort to reach out to the person and work out a payment plan,” he said.
Molina said the resolution would include federal contractors who have not been paid but continue to do their jobs and not just the members of the armed forces.
“We would be asking for a letter from the commanding officer for a military person identifying that they would be working in the capacity and not being paid or the CEO of a private company identifying the federal grant they are working, and they are not paid because of the federal shutdown,” he said.
City Manager Alex Nguyen said he supports the military but is not crazy about public policy bailing out the “shenanigans in Washington D. C.”
“As a question of public policy, how do we keep this from other broad groups of people who would be in the same financial straits,” he asked.
The council tabled the action.
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