On Tuesday, City Council will talk about how to address two large issues in the city — affordable housing and delinquent utility bills.
City Council will consider a write-off for delinquent utility billing accounts from 2019 and will also discuss adopting a resolution in support of creating an affordable housing fund, among other items, according to city documents.
The housing resolution will direct City Manager Eric Campbell and City Attorney Chris Brown to provide council with a legal path to establishing a housing fund and a formal strategy on how to implement solutions based on findings from a recently completed study.
Last year, City Council commissioned a study to inform decisions on how to increase the amount of affordable housing in Harrisonburg. The study was completed in January.
It listed a variety of recommendations. A city housing trust was ranked 15th out of 17 priority actions the city should take, according to the report.
In March, before the housing study was underway, a local multifaith religious organization called for the city and county to invest $750,000 for a joint affordable housing trust fund.
Housing trust funds, once begun by localities, receive public funding and private donations to promote affordable housing, according to the Housing Trust Fund Project, a group that provides information about the initiatives.
Throughout the pandemic, city staff and council have been trying to work on ways to address delinquent utility bills during the pandemic. But Tuesday’s council business is about utility bills from before the pandemic.
Mike Collins, director of public utilities, is requesting approval to write off $24,000 in billings from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019, according to public works. Even if approved, the delinquent bills will remain in collections.
The over $24,000 from 126 accounts is 0.12% of total utility billings from 2019, according to city documents.
The largest single outstanding payment is $2,900 from the now-closed Golden Corral restaurant on East Market Street.
At council’s last meeting on Feb. 10, City Council also unanimously approved a new way to deal with late utility fees for those who have experienced economic hardship from the pandemic.
Council approved an option supported by city staff to keep the 10% late fee on utility payments, but create a waiver for customers who can demonstrate economic problems from the pandemic. The late fees will be waived, and federal CARES Act funding may be available to help residents and businesses who have fallen behind if they’re short for future bills. A late fee already paid during the pandemic can be credited on the next bill.
In other tax business, council must approve a refund for a company’s machinery and tools tax payments from 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 amounting to over $103,000, plus interest, according to city documents.
The name of the company is protected by attorney-client privilege, according to city documents.
An accounting mix-up led to overpayment, and commissioner of the revenue staff performed a walkthrough of the facility last year as part of an audit to determine the extent of the overpayment.
Staff recommends approval of the refund as there are no alternatives.
Amendments to residential permit parking ordinances are also on the agenda. The Harrisonburg Police Department has requested the proposed changes, according to city documents.
One of the changes would raise the price of a parking permit from $3 to $5 and allow dumpsters and storage containers be in front of residential property for up to 72 hours, according to city documents.
The proposed changes would also create a way for the city to remove a permit parking zone. The city would be required to give notice to properties and property owners in the zone about opportunities for public comment before council takes action, according to city documents.
In addition, the proposed changes would require those with guest cards and permit parking decals in permit zones to park within 500 feet of the residence or property the permit is issued for. This is to stop parking on the other end of a permit parking zone and walking to another destination, according to city documents.