For more than two months, the Tawas City Council has conducted its meetings virtually, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the restrictions easing up, though, they were able to gather in person at Tawas City Hall – which is also open to the public now – on June 15. Precautions remain in place throughout the building and one example is shown here, as city officials maintain a safe social distance from one another at their latest meeting.

TAWAS CITY – Conducting their first in-person meeting since March, Tawas City officials gathered in the council chambers on June 15 to discuss their latest orders of business.

The scene looked a little different than usual, with seating arranged so as to comply with the social distancing guidelines brought about by COVID-19.

With the easing of the pandemic restrictions in recent weeks, Tawas City Hall was also able to open its doors to the public on June 8.

The new city hall hours are Monday through Thursday, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Anyone looking to make a payment after hours may use the drop box located in the parking lot at the back of the building.

City Manager Annge Horning pointed out that the change in hours was a pre-COVID decision, and that residents were previously notified of this in a newsletter.

Precautionary measures remain in place at Tawas City Hall, with Horning listing such examples as, the placement of a sneeze guard on the counter between the staff and the public; the frequent sanitizing of common surfaces; signs requesting that visitors stand back and wait their turn; and so on.

In related updates, the Tawas City Library re-opened on June 18. Horning says the current hours of operation – until after Independence Day – are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

As for the council meeting, members voted 7-0 to resume charging utility billing late fees, beginning with the July 2020 bills, which will go out on July 1 and will be due on July 20. Officials also approved resuming the shutoffs of delinquent accounts in coordination with the guidance of the state of Michigan, in relation to the declared state of emergency.

Horning gave a reminder that, during their March 16 meeting, the council took action to waive the utility billing penalties and delay shutting off water on delinquent accounts until further notice.

Shortly thereafter, on March 28, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an Executive Order which prohibited such shutoffs, anyway. Specifically, Horning said the order prohibited the discontinuation of public water services due to delinquency until the termination of the declared state of emergency order, or a date reasonably related to the end of the declared state of emergency.

While the city manager recommended that officials consider allowing the late fees to resume in July, she also said that – with the recent reopening of businesses and other new developments – it’s certainly the council’s pleasure if they instead wanted to push this to August.

Councilman Jon Studley said he thinks the July 20 date is fine and that, hopefully by then, they will be in the next phase of the re-opening process.

Horning also provided council members with a chart, showing what the city would have charged for those three months in penalties, compared to what was charged last year.

She said that, in an interesting surprise, the overall total is actually $391 less, and more people have been paying their bills than they were last year at this time.

In other action, the council accepted a $400 offer – the lone bid received – from Tyler Stevelinck, to purchase two pieces of equipment from the Department of Public Works.

As reported, the city advertised for bids for the sale of a 1996 Ford F-250 pickup truck, as well as a 1993 Cronkite trailer. Stevelinck’s bid was for both items.

“Both of these pieces of equipment have already been removed from our insurance schedules,” Horning noted.

In separate business, the following is a list of updates Horning provided during the meeting:

• Requests have been coming in from people who have reserved the city parks, asking to cancel their reservations due to health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The normal policy requires a 45-day notice for refunds, but Horning said the city will deviate from that this year, even if it’s a shorter time period. “I think with an exceptional time, we need to make exceptions.”

• Bid documents for the pier project in Tawas City Shoreline Park are going to be issued the beginning of July. As with many of the city’s other projects, Horning said the engineers felt it was necessary to hold that for a couple months, because of the contractors and suppliers being shut down as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. “But it’s still being advertised with a June 30, 2021 completion date, which is what we had approved before.”

• An addendum has been issued by the engineer for the Mathews Street bridge project. The bids were due today (Wednesday), with an anticipated start date at the end of August and substantial completion by Oct. 1. Once that is wrapped up, Horning said they will then move on to the First Street bridge in the springtime.

• A business recently completed the application to serve as a food truck vendor in Gateway Park on Wednesdays. Horning said The Fresh Kitchen’s first day was on June 10, and there seemed to be a good turnout during the lunch hour. “We’re hoping they will continue to come back and their success will entice others to participate.”