Fort Collins leaders fielded community members’ coronavirus questions in a Reddit “ask me anything” session on Wednesday.
The online discussion, facilitated by the Coloradoan, gave residents a chance to ask questions and get direct written responses from Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, City Manager Darin Atteberry and Emergency Preparedness Director Jim Byrne.
The city officials answered Reddit users’ and Coloradoan reader-submitted questions in the hourlong AMA. In case you missed it, here are some highlights from the conversation. We lightly edited some questions and answers for spelling and grammar.
Q: “How has our electricity usage changed with people observing the stay-at-home order, specifically during peak hours? Time of Day summer pricing begins in about three weeks. Are there any discussions to delay that switchover until residents begin returning to work? (Please don’t refer to the past survey that indicates people saved with TOD pricing – we weren’t eating all of our meals or doing all of our work or homework at home during those times as we are required to now.)”
A: “Last night, the council asked to look more into the tiered aspects of our electricity rates with the stay-at-home impacts. We’ve also asked to review trend changes in electric usage. While total electric use trend changes are minimal, there is a slight shift from commercial to residential. We will not disconnect service to customers until further notice for nonpayment. If you are having difficulty paying your bills, contact us at 970-212-2900 to receive assistance or make a payment arrangement.” (Wade Troxell)
Q: “I’ve seen a couple posts on r/CoronavirusColorado and some news reports suggesting that we passed, are at, or very, very close to the coronavirus peak in our state. From the mind of professionals, what do you guys think about this? Will restrictions in CO be lifted even if other states are not quite ready, and if so, will they be lifted in phases or all at once? I’m not worried about the ‘when’ as much as I’m curious about the ‘how.'”
A: “We take our lead from Larimer County health, who works in conjunction with the state of CO. There are many models with different peaks and outcome dates. Some say we are past it; others say it’s yet to come. At this time, we will take guidance from the county and state and will continue to work to flatten the curve. At this time we won’t suggest taking the foot off the gas pedal.” (Jim Byrne)
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Q: “When things eventually open up, will it be all at once or will certain types of businesses/jobs be opened before others? I realize you will probably follow the lead of the whatever the governor recommends, but just curious if you can provide any insight.”
A: “A little difficult to forecast, but since we phased into these closures we will likely phase out of them.” (Jim Byrne)
Q: “Is there a lack of PPE at hospitals at this point in time? If a need arises, other communities around the country have set up local supply chains to manufacture, disinfect and deliver the needed PPE to hospitals. Does Fort Collins or Northern Colorado have anything in place for such a need? “
A: “All of our regional partners, coordinated through Larimer County Health, are working to support medical facilities for PPE needs. For example, the city provided about 5,000 surgical-type masks to support medical facilities. (We) are cautiously optimistic at this point.” (Jim Byrne)
Q: “What aid can residents expect for their finances? I know many people who were unable to afford rent for April and/or won’t be able to afford rent in May. Many landlords have been unreasonable and straight up illegal in their responses, but the main underlying claim seems to be “we have bills to pay too” — they need some kind of payment relief too. I know evictions aren’t being processed currently, but moving forward, how are we as a community going to ensure renters aren’t facing mass evictions after this?”
A: “The city has received many questions and concerns in regards to rent, mortgage and evictions from businesses, residents and landlords. Although the city has limited authority in evictions, we are still working diligently with partners to respond to this important and growing issue in our community. Neighbor to Neighbor is a local nonprofit that offers rent assistance to community members and they are scaling up to meet increased demand, and the city will continue to work closely to support these needs.” (Wade Troxell)
Q: “With businesses closed and likely greatly reduced sales tax revenues, along with not collecting fees for facilities, programs and such, what is the current projection of how much city revenues will fall short in 2020? What is the city currently doing to offset this in terms of expenditure reductions? Will we as residents see a lower level of service than we have come to expect?”
A: Restaurants and bars alone generate around $19 million in sales tax revenue annually, so the impact of this and all the other businesses impacted will inevitably impact the revenue to the city. Conversations with city council and city leaders are occurring around this, and requests have been made for cost reductions, hiring freezes and delayed capital projects. Also looking into if reserves can be used to offset some of these impacts. Bottom line, we do expect city services to be impacted negatively in some way. We will have a better understanding in the coming weeks. (Darin Atteberry)
Q: “How many people are actually hospitalized at Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies with coronavirus, and how many are on ventilators?”
A: What we’ve heard is total ICU capacity in local hospitals was at about 60% capacity. Though there is still capacity, it’s important we continue to flatten the curve so we don’t exceed capacity. (Darin Atteberry)
Q: “I live next door to the Northside Aztlan Community Center that has now been turned into a homeless camp. How many more (people) are you going to allow to camp in the park we can no longer use and when will the campers be removed?”
A: “We are well aware of the issues going on around Northside Aztlan Community Center. While this is something that has grown organically over the past 48 hours without authorization from the city, we are working to address the challenging reality of the situation while balancing the need for safe shelter for all during this pandemic outbreak. A temporary solution for the duration of the stay at home order is underway that will ensure appropriate health and safety measures are in place for those who are sheltering outdoors as well as neighbors and the broader community. The indoor shelter was initially established through Friday, April 10, so plans for outdoor space will be finalized by the end of the week when the original lease agreement for this use of the Northside Aztlan Community Center needs to be renegotiated. I expect these plans to be implemented Friday.” (Darin Atteberry)
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Q: “From the talk on Nextdoor, the police will not interfere with people gathering in parks to play volleyball. Anger is rising in the neighborhoods about these kids. Why couldn’t the police at least stop by and ask them to disband?”
A: “City staff, such as police and rangers, when observing these types of activities are taking an educational approach and have received positive response. Thanks for doing your part in following these recommendations.” (Jim Byrne)
Q: “Why did parks close the restrooms/outhouses? Seems unnecessary and verges on silly. An outhouse is the ultimate in social distancing! No one has to enter an outhouse if they don’t want to. If a park is open, restrooms need be open. I understand when restrooms in closed visitor buildings are closed, but why has the city closed the single stall outhouses?”
A: “We made the decision to close the park restrooms for the safety of patrons because of the associated challenges of ongoing cleaning as well as the proximity of the sinks and walkways that would not ensure proper social distancing.” (Darin Atteberry)
Q: “Can something — ANYTHING — be done to improve cellular coverage south of Harmony? Even if it’s just temporary — allowing existing towers to boost their power, or installing non-code approved microcells? I realize this is a complex public-private issue, and I realize that cell service in Larimer County has (for some reason) been an ongoing challenge for years.”
A: “We are aware of some of the cellular and internet gaps in south Fort Collins. Unfortunately not likely to have a short-term fix. We’re hoping that Connexion will assist with that and they are also working with PSD for additional student access.” (Darin Atteberry)
Editor’s note: As the coronavirus outbreak continues to evolve, we don’t want you to panic. In fact, quite the opposite. That’s why the Coloradoan is committed to providing you with accurate, up-to-date information so you can make informed decisions on issues affecting you and the people you love. As such, this story, and many others, are being provided free for all to read. Help us continue this important work by subscribing to the Coloradoan.
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support stories like this one by purchasing a digital subscription to the Coloradoan.
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