OWOSSO — Mayor Chris Eveleth kicked off the city’s very first virtual Owosso City Council meeting Monday by welcoming the 20 or so participants to the session “in these most unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
With in-person meetings generally banned by the statewide “stay home, stay safe” order because of the coronavirus outbreak, the council’s virtual session was conducted via the Zoom app and by phone, enabling council members to put several emergency rules in place until the state order is lifted.
All seven council members took part, along with the city manager and other city officials.
The following emergency measures were approved:
n Mayor Chris Eveleth’s March 17 emergency declaration was affirmed unanimously. Emergency measures include canceling all in-person city meetings; allowing the city manager to close city hall and place all non-essential employees on paid leave; naming Owosso Public Safety Director Kevin Lenkart as emergency liaison for the city’s emergency management; giving the city manager authority to approve site plans; and giving the mayor authority to sign for purchases over $10,000.
n Council members unanimously agreed to suspend water and sewer bill late fees until the statewide emergency order is lifted. In addition, council approved restoring water service to occupied residences where the service had been shut off because of unpaid bills.
City Manager Nathan Henne said all but one of the 26 affected residences have had their water restored, and the last one will be turned back on as soon as possible.
Eveleth said some residents have suggested all billing for water and sewer services be suspended during the emergency, but he noted the costs of such services.
“What we’re doing is the best we can do, and it’s not nothing,” the mayor said. “It really is a help to those who need it.”
n Council unanimously amended the city’s sick leave policy during the stay-home order to ensure that employees who need to self-quarantine because of the virus won’t have to count that time off as regular sick days or vacation days.
Henne said the temporary rule is mostly directed at such first-responders as police, fire and EMS personnel. He said there are generally only three or four employees working inside city hall.
n By a 6-1 vote, with council member Janae Fear dissenting, the council authorized the city manager to approve site plans administratively, except for plans that involve rezoning, special use or variance requests, until the statewide order is lifted.
n Council unanimously approved updating the Owosso Main Street/Downtown Development Authority manual to include emergency response loans to help local businesses cover bills over the next three months. The business owners are guarantors under the loan agreements.
Council also approved a consent agenda, which is not subject to debate, that included emergency loans to 11 businesses. Council member Nick Pidek, whose business, Foster Coffee, applied for an emergency loan, abstained from both loan-related votes.
Despite the virtual setup, many aspects of Monday’s meeting were the same as usual. A prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance were said, and one resident took advantage of the opportunity to make public comment.
Resident Jane Setterington said she is living out of state during the virus outbreak and asked for guidance on whether a friend of hers would be allowed to maintain her Owosso property, including mow the lawn, in her absence.
Henne said he had no problem with Setterington’s plan, but wasn’t sure if the governor’s order could be interpreted to allow it. He said the city plans to perform brush pickup on schedule this month, and he didn’t see the difference between the two activities.
Eveleth passed along information, provided by Tom Cook about a county essential needs hotline that can be reached at (989) 743-2460 and a fund set up by the United Way for local residents through raiseupshiawassee.org.
City Hall is closed to the public during the virus outbreak but several essential city staffers are still reporting to work. They can be reached at (989) 725-0599.