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Council to hold special meeting Tuesday

City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to vote on a trio of measures related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting, which will be held at 1 p.m. at City Hall in the council chambers, will be open to the public and is expected to be brief, according to City Manager Patrick Roberts. The meeting will also be broadcast on the Suffolk Municipal Channel and livestreamed.

City Hall has been closed to the public since March 16, though city employees have continued reporting to work.

Roberts noted that neighborhood, street and sewer projects are still taking place. Some city staff are doing more, and needed, work in the field, while others are working remotely and some are practicing social distancing while in their offices.

“We’re just trying to maximize the use of telephone and email interactions to keep things going to make sure we’re able to stay in contact with the people that we serve every day,” Roberts said. “And we are finding out, if we hadn’t realized it before, we’re a very social community. Everybody here, we like to do business face-to-face. We enjoy working with people, so while this is a new challenge, we’re just reinventing the ways that we reach out to people and trying to continue responding to the needs of the community.”

Council will be holding votes on an ordinance to formalize the city removing fees on credit and debit card transactions, and setting the procedures and guidelines to access council meetings, or to conduct council meetings remotely, if necessary. There will also be another vote related to the city’s emergency declaration. Roberts declared a state of emergency March 13.

“We’ll discuss it some on Tuesday,” Roberts said about the possibility of holding a virtual council meeting. “It is still a public meeting. Everything they do will be broadcast in some form or fashion. It remains to be seen whether or not that’s a tool that will have to be used, but they will put that tool in place this coming Tuesday so that they can continue to have council meetings regardless of what takes place.”

The regularly scheduled meeting for April 1 has been canceled, but Roberts said there would be a council meeting April 15, in some format. “Most likely,” that is when he expects to introduce the proposed city budget for the next fiscal year. It is not clear yet what parts of the budget could be impacted as a result of the pandemic and developments at the state and federal levels.

He said the city is tracking its expenses related to the coronavirus to be able to know what the costs are for such an event for future planning purposes, and, for the possibility of the federal government reimbursing localities for expenses related to the outbreak.

The timing of the city’s tax collection is different than other regional localities, Roberts said. For one, the business license taxes were due at the beginning of this month. The real estate tax is due in June and December. Personal property taxes are due in December, which is not an issue of immediate concern, Roberts said.

“It is something that we’re watching very closely,” Roberts said, “because our operating budget has to balance. Our expenditures can’t exceed the revenues we collect. There’s so much public discussion going on about revenues, certain revenues being impacted. We are looking at it very closely and will take all that into account as soon as I’m able to present the budget to council.”

Also of note, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department has closed the playgrounds at its parks until further notice due to the need for physical distancing. The parks include: Bennett’s Creek Park, Booker T. Washington Recreation Center, Boston Park, Coulbourn Park, Cypress Park, East Suffolk Recreation Center, Holland Park, Ida Easter Park, Lake Meade Park, Lake Kennedy Park, Lakeside Park, Lone Star Lakes Park, Magnolia Park, Mary Estes Park, Planters Park, Pughsville Park, Sleepy Hole Park, Turlington Park, Tynes Park and Whaleyville Recreation Center.

All other amenities at the parks, including skate parks, dog parks, tennis courts, kayak and boat launches and trails, will remain open to the public. The city encourages residents to keep a distance of at least six feet while using the parks.