Tehachapi city staff and City Council members hold an emergency council meeting on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.

On the steps of Tehachapi City Hall on Wednesday, the Tehachapi City Council unanimously approved temporarily deferring water, sewer and trash payments for small businesses, and waiving late fees for residential customers. They also agreed to suspend water shut-offs for non-payment.

“Last week when things really started to ramp up, I grabbed my executive staff and we were meeting by the way every morning and every evening to assess what’s going on in our city, our community and beyond," Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett said. "But I asked the question, ‘What can we do to help our city?’ We came up with a plan. This is the first step. There may be more.”

Small businesses are offered the opt-in program to defer utility payments for sewer, trash and water for March and April to be paid and spread out over six months, from May through October. It can allow for the amount due to be paid when the “business resumes to normal levels,” according to documents in the Wednesday emergency meeting agenda packet.

The city of Tehachapi will pay in full to subsidize the water and sewer accounts in these enterprise funds and anticipate payment from customers at the end of the fiscal year. Waste Management, which contracts with the city for a commercial trash service, will be paid out of the general fund revenue, said the documents.

Residential customers are offered the suspension of late fees for overdue utility payments for the months of March and April and the suspension of water shut-offs for non-payment until May 31.

“Our staff got together to discuss this and decide upon it and they decided that we would meet on the steps of City Hall ... to concur with coronavirus standards,” said Tehachapi City Mayor Susan Wiggins.

Some public comment was received.

Michael J. Puffer, a city resident, said in an email that residents should receive the same treatment of allowing bills to be repaid over the next six months as the policy for small businesses.

“Many people who are employees will see significant loss of income due to businesses closing or hours being cut and a lack of paid sick leave. Those same people are often living paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford a $400 emergency expense,” Puffer said. He added, “Let’s put our people on equal footing as businesses.”

In response, Corey Costelloe, economic development coordinator for the city of Tehachapi, said, “The question was raised, “Why don’t we just extend this deferred payment option to residential customers? Essentially, in this policy it already is. We are not going to be shutting water off until the end of May. So if you can’t pay, then you won’t be losing service until at least May.”