St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said during a Tuesday coronavirus briefing that the city will resume suspending service on unpaid utility accounts.
“We recognize the times we are in,” the Mayor said. “And we’re an empathetic city, But the longer you wait to even begin to make any type of payment, the harder it will be for you to get caught up.”
The city resumed terminating service on Monday as a result of non-payment. It is also now assessing late fees on overdue accounts, which had been suspended.
“Payment plans remain an option — we want to work with you,” Kriseman said.
The city has a utility assistance program available to residents in need. More information is available online.
The city stopped suspending service in March as people were beginning to face economic hardship amid increasing business shutdowns. Currently, 11,400 accounts are past due, a number the city expects to go down as it works with residents on payment plans, according to Kriseman’s spokesman, Ben Kirby.
Kriseman also announced the Fighting Chance Fund, which the city established to help small businesses respond to coronavirus, will end on Aug. 14.
“We have money to give out, so if you haven’t applied for funding, the clock is ticking on your chance to do so,” Kriseman said.
The Mayor also announced plans to keep the mask mandate enforced into the “foreseeable future,” including as the positivity rate for new virus cases continue to drop.
Asked whether he thought bars and breweries should be allowed to reopen, Kriseman said he doesn’t support full reopening yet, but he does support a partial, restricted reopening with the same restrictions currently on restaurants.
St. Pete is currently allowing 50% occupancy at restaurants and businesses and requires parties be seated.
“We know that a lot of our owners and brewery owners have really been struggling to survive with restrictions that they’ve been placed under,” he said. “What I don’t support is people being in bars that are open and being able to stand about — I think it’s difficult to maintain social distancing in those situations.”
Kriseman also announced New York is sending 16 pallets of personal protective equipment to St. Pete to be distributed to hospitals.
In Pinellas County, there have been 17,047 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, and 460 deaths. At the briefing, Kriseman said 69% of the deaths in Pinellas were related to long-term care facilities.
Kriseman also went over the rolling two week positivity rate, which measures the percentage of first-time positive coronavirus tests. The Mayor reported the most recent two week average at 6.79%. In early and mid July, the two week average positivity rate was around 12%. The Mayor’s goal is to get it below 5%.
“That means we’re making progress, but there is much uncertainty still ahead,” he said.
That uncertainty, Kriseman said, includes schools reopening later this month.