Seattle won’t shut off water and electricity service during the city’s novel coronavirus emergency, Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday.
Also, City Hall will offer to defer city business-and-occupation tax payments for some small businesses and will set up a small-business recovery task force, the mayor said.
The utilities policy will apply to residential and commercial Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) water and Seattle City Light electricity customers, she said in a news release. It will cover SPU sewer, drainage and solid-waste services, as well.
Starting Tuesday, customers financially impacted by the outbreak will be able to request deferred payment plans, and their services will stay on as those plans are put together, said Durkan, who declared a city emergency last week.
Customers will need to work with SPU and City Light to develop long-term payment plans, Durkan spokeswoman Kelsey Nyland said.
“We’re keeping our utilities on for the duration of the COVID-19 civil emergency in Seattle,” Durkan said. “The city of Seattle supports working people and small businesses, and we will do everything in our power to ease their financial stress.”
She plans to send legislation to the City Council later this week that would eliminate late fees that are normally added to past-due balances, she added.
SPU and City Light will start contacting small businesses this week to discuss payment arrangements. Customers who want to request payment plans should call 206-684-3000 or send an email at seattle.gov/utilities/about-us/email-question, Tuesday’s news release said. SPU and City Light have a discount program for income-eligible residential customers.
SPU and City Light don’t provide natural gas; Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is the gas company in the city.
Allison Eltrich, who rents a house in Georgetown with roommates, said their gas was shut off last Wednesday due to a missed bill. Their service was restored Friday, but Eltrich said she worries about customers who are losing work hours and jobs due to the virus.
“The house was cold and we had no hot water,” she said, mentioning that officials have urged people to help slow the spread of the virus by washing their hands.
Asked about shutoffs Tuesday, PSE spokeswoman Janet Kim said the company “will work with our customers on options such as payment plans and choosing a new bill due date to help them through this difficult time.”
Businesses are required to pay Seattle’s B&O taxes (also known as business license taxes) quarterly or annually, depending on certain criteria, Nyland said.
Starting now, the city will offer to defer all B&O tax collections for businesses that have annual taxable incomes of $5 million or less and that pay city taxes quarterly, Durkan said in a separate release. Such businesses will have until late 2020 to pay their city B&O taxes. The policy will cover about 20,000 businesses, the release said.
“Our small businesses are the economic workhorses of America, particularly in Seattle, where they … provide nearly 200,000 jobs,” the mayor said.
Durkan said her administration is working on budget legislation that would allow the city to support lower-income micro-businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak with stabilization funds. Emergency loans for small businesses from the federal government are on their way.
Former Gov. Gary Locke and former City Councilmember Bruce Harrell will lead a COVID-19 small-business recovery task force for Seattle, the mayor said.