TUMWATER –– Issues over how the COVID-19 pandemic affects the city’s utility billing and keeping up the Tumwater Valley Golf Club came up during a discussion at the Tumwater Budget & Finance Committee.
Tumwater, like many cities throughout Washington, now allows utility customers of the city to pay utility bills later than the specified due date because of the financial stress placed on families during the pandemic. However, the amount of homes in the last few months which would have had their utilities shut off rose.
“The number of 111 has gone up to 196,” said Ursula Euler, finance director. “We would have sent out 196 shutoff notices [without the pandemic]. They are folks that just don’t pay until they get a shutoff notice.”
The more relaxed billing deadlines have made it easier for people to keep utilities turned on in their household. However, Euler mentioned that some people may also be placing less importance on returning bills on time due to the lax requirements.
The committee proposed an incentive program for using the online utility billing system.
“What we’re proposing is a $5 incentive,” explained City Administrator John Doan. “It would be a one-time incentive that people would sign up for.”
An online system for paying bills is mutually beneficial. It both saves the city money and is more convenient for the citizen than dropping off a payment in person. City officials wants to grow the number of people who make use of the online system.
“We pay about a dollar for every bill that we have to send out,” said Doan, “so every one of those that we can reduce [has real savings].”
An accumulation of one-dollar savings would eventually generate more revenue than the cost of the five-dollar initiatives.
“On the payment side,” said Doan, “we have in the past decade made some pretty incredible progress … 70 percent of our customers paid their utility bill electronically … [which has] grown quite a bit.”
After discussion on the numbers, the committee passed the incentive program.
In addition to billing, the committee was presented with a proposal to replace much of the equipment that helps maintain the grounds of the Tumwater Valley Golf Club. This includes the likes of fairway mowers, rough mowers, utility carts, and tractors. The facility is owned by the Tumwater Parks Department, and the city receives revenue from daily use of the course.
“This package [is] just the basics to keep the golf course functioning,” explained Parks & Recreation Director Chuck Denney. “It keeps people coming back to play golf there.”
Golf course grounds equipment, like parks equipment, is “incredibly expensive,” said Denney. It needs to be replaced on a regular cycle, but “currently we’re in year eight of out a five-year window.”
Due to the pandemic, the course received a loss in revenue, though it was less than expected.
“Despite April, which was really the down month where we were just totally closed, it’s been phenomenal,” said Denney. “We’ve been close to setting records.”
He mentioned that instead of $400,000 in lost revenue to the golf course, they have incurred losses more in the $100,000 range.
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