I spend part of my winters in Southern Arizona, returning to my residence in Federal Way on an almost monthly basis to attend to commissioner duties at Lakehaven, do chores around the house, and visit with children and grandchildren. As I write this article in early April, the COVID 19 Pandemic has put these plans into turmoil.
In March, the utility systems we operate were designated as “critical infrastructure” under Governor Inslee’s Emergency Declaration. Because of the extra importance of these services to you during these difficult times, I will give you a quick overview of what we have been doing to continue to provide reliable water and wastewater
services to your homes and businesses.
For our customers (owners) having difficulties paying their water/sewer bills, we have suspended shutoffs, as well as the assessment of penalties and interest on delinquent accounts. In order to help those in need during the pandemic, we implemented changes to our Customer Assistance Program to provide, as funds are available, fifty dollars ($50) towards current water and sewer bills for customers who have lost jobs or businesses because of the pandemic.
For the protection of our employees, in March we shifted to maintaining only essential operations. While only a small percentage of employees have been working on-site, a larger number of our managerial and administrative staff are working remotely (using laptops and cell phones). At the outset, we had about 30% of our workforce on the job and the rest prepared to serve as needed. As we learn how to operate more efficiently in this environment, this could increase to 75% or so. While definitely not normal, we need to maintain all the equipment and facilities that provide the service you expect, which we intend to do in full.
To implement these changes, we entered into agreements with the two unions that represent the majority of our roughly 110 employees concerning how we would differentiate the pay between those sheltering at home, working remotely, and working on-site. For the safety and protection of our employees, their families and the communities in which they live, we are also requiring health checks, increased sanitation, the wearing of masks, and social distancing at work.
In another measure taken to protect employees and the community we serve, we have restricted office hours and are limiting the interaction of the customer service and development engineering representatives to phone and email only.
We need to take care of each other during these trying times. The District will continue to do our very best to make sure that you have safe drinking water and reliable wastewater service throughout this unique period.