Recognizing the financial hardship caused by the new coronavirus pandemic, City Council members on Saturday approved a measure to waive late fees on sewer and tax payments.
“If you’re late, we’re not going to charge you eight percent. It’s going to be zero,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz, who championed the measure.
Property owners late on their May 1 tax and sewer bills can pay by June 1 without incurring 8 to 18-percent interest penalties. The city charges 8% for the first $1,500 that’s late and 18% for amount over $1,500.
Abdelaziz faced hurdles in securing approval for the measure from some of his colleagues and mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration.
Sayegh’s law director Farrah Irving told council members the measure may contravene the memorandum of understanding between the state and municipal governments. Last year, the state provided $24.65 in transitional aid and imposed a series of conditions.
Irving said the MOU requires the city secure permission from the state.
Councilman William McKoy said the city could jeopardize as much as $28 million in state aid by going ahead with the measure. He recognized taxpayers were in a “bind.”
Councilman Flavio Rivera, chairman of the finance committee, said the mayor and his administration need to find better excuses than repeatedly saying DCA does not allow this or that.
Abdelaziz pointed out utility companies are barred from terminating services to customers and landlord are barred from evicting tenants amid the pandemic.
“Government is supposed to help people up, not kick them when they are down with fees during a pandemic,” said Abdelaziz.
Council members could not legally eliminate the interest fees, but reduced it to 0.00001%.
Council members voted 7-0 to approve the measure. Abdelaziz, Shahin Khalique, Rivera, McKoy, Luis Velez, Maritza Davila, and Michael Jackson voted in favor. Ruby Cotton and Lilisa Mimms were absent.
Cotton lost her husband to Covid-19 last week.
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Updated 11:50 a.m.