Town water rates and public safety were top discussion points at a Tuesday night Strasburg Town Council meeting.
In a surprise statement, Town Manager Wyatt Pearson told council members that the town’s water meter software is capable of levelized billing.
After some research, he said, town staff learned they won’t have to wait to install a new Smart system to offer levelized billing for town customers and that they’re looking into how to achieve fixed monthly rates with the current software.
“I think it could be a great option for our customers,” Pearson said on Wednesday.
The town often receives phone calls from frustrated customers experiencing spikes in their billing, and he said the discovery could allow the town to charge customers a fixed rate each month based on their average water usage over the last 12 months.
At the end of a 12-month billing cycle, customers will either receive a credit if the town has overestimated their monthly usage or a bill if water fees come up short.
Though still likely to pursue the installation of the Smart water meter system once it can approve funding, the town can use this new information to reap some of those benefits sooner through the existing system.
“This is a different way we can accomplish the same end,” Pearson said.
The town’s water and sewer program has received Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to help offset losses from delinquent water and sewer bills during the pandemic.
Customers who have been delinquent on their bills will receive a call during the new billing cycle from nonprofit Dollar Energy Fund, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to help them pay their bills.
Pearson said the town is working on alerting anyone with a delinquency bill to answer their phones in the coming weeks, even if they don’t recognize the number, so they can address their bill.
Speaking on public safety, Police Chief Wayne Sager told council members the department responded to 672 calls in September.
“We’re starting to see them gradually increase,” he said.
During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department responded to fewer calls in part because of fewer incoming calls and in part because staff members were responding less often.
“Law enforcement were selective in their interaction with the public to mitigate the spread [of illness],” Sager said on Wednesday.
He stressed that the selectivity applied only to minor situations and not emergencies, which he called “paramount.”
Minor traffic violations were selectively being enforced, he said, and others were being handled differently to avoid officers coming in contact with the public unnecessarily.
“We saw our calls drop down significantly,” he said.
In April, the department had only 238 calls, he said.
Despite receiving fewer calls in general, he said the community’s response to the pandemic sparked an increase in domestic abuse calls.
At the meeting, Councilwoman Taralyn Nicholson questioned Sager about reports she had heard of lights shined in the windows of residents’ homes on Monday night — an incident she said happened to her as well as others who commented about it on social media.
Though initially unaware of the incident, Sager, by the end of the meeting, said he’d learned from staff that the lights had been shined by a patrol officer driving through darker neighborhoods around town.
“That’s normal proactive patrol,” he elaborated on Wednesday.
Officers might use lights at night if they’re driving with their windows down and hear a dog barking or a suspicious noise from a darkened area, which could indicate an intruder, he said.
“I’ve done that myself,” Sager said of shining lights into dark places. “We want officers to do that.”
Though also asked at the meeting about the potential for increased police presence during the upcoming Nov. 3 election, Sager dispelled the idea.
“We don’t want to be in or around the polls unless requested,” he said.
Also at the meeting:
• The council unanimously approved a resolution to allow for the submission of a sanitary sewer rehabilitation grant/loan program through the U.S. Drug Administration’s Water and Environmental Program
• The council unanimously authorized sewer fund contingency expenditures to perform repairs to the Oxbow Sanitary Sewer Lift Station
• Pearson announced that second-half tax bills will be mailed out to area residents later this month and will be due on Dec. 7
• Upcoming events will include Paws in the Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday in Strasburg Square and the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 7 in the Strasburg Square.
Town staff will be checking the town pool over the winter to do maintenance as needed, rather than draining the pool, in an attempt to prevent mold accumulation and issues with the pump system
The Public Safety and Ordinance Committee will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday and it will be streamed via Zoom.