Editor's Note: This article previously incorrectly stated that utilities will be turned off if the payment is not made, utilities will only be turned off if a delinquent account does not respond to the two notices sent by the City of Ames. The Iowa State Daily regrets this error.
As COVID-19 cases in Story County rise to about 500, the Ames City Council worked to assist businesses and residents who have been impacted by the pandemic.
The Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey on ways to customize Ames policies during COVID-19 to help encourage the uses of outdoor space.
The response that came back requested allowing the use of parking spaces for temporary outdoor seating, the use of the city right-of-way for patio space and to allow signage to be placed in the city right-of-way to advertise the business.
The Council observed the need to permanently remove the requirements for barriers to be placed for outdoor seating if alcohol is not served and to extend outdoor seating in front of adjacent businesses. To do so, the extension must be approved by the adjacent business owner and entrances and exits of the adjacent business must not be blocked.
A motion was made and passed to allow these temporary and permanent provisions to aid businesses throughout the pandemic. In a separate motion and if state law allows, the Council moved to temporarily waive the requirement that a barrier of at least 42 inches is constructed for outside seating.
“This leaves open interpretation about how you can accomplish this, you are no longer required to put up a 42-inch barrier. Of course, you have to satisfy state law, but it doesn’t say how anymore,” Ward 3 Rep. David Martin said. “I think that that will make it easier for people to set up things and experiment in ways that they haven’t been able to before.”
These temporary laws are through Oct. 31, and Martin said this year could also help prepare outdoor dining for summers to come.
Ames has not issued utility disconnect notices since mid-March after city-operated water and sewer utilities were encouraged to cease disconnections through the public health emergency.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation on April 27 extending the public health emergency declaration to May 27. A part of the proclamation was an order by the Iowa Utilities Board restricting the disconnection of utility services to customers.
Ames currently has over 2,700 customers accounts that are delinquent that amounts to $400,000. This is twice as much as the usual average for this time of year. The Council’s goal is to work with customers in keeping their utilities intact while getting accounts up to date.
Customers with delinquent accounts will receive a 12-day notice regardless of the amount of time they have been past due, followed by a second notice that is an on-premise notification if payment is not made. Utilities will be turned off after the delinquent account holder fails to respond to two notices.
“I just want to reaffirm that this is a process, that is not an automatic cutting off service and that we are going to be doing everything possible to ensure that those utilities continue to be available,” Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher said.