DALLAS – The city of Dallas will start its reopening process slowly by allowing customers to come to city hall to pay utility bills during a small window of time each day. Citizens will also be able to schedule in-person appointments.
City Manager Brian Latta said the changes will be begin this week, once sneeze guards can be installed at the utility billing counter. He calls it a “soft opening.”
“I do think that there are some things that the city could be doing in the short-term and the long-term to help maintain the safety and the health of our citizens, as well as help with the reopening efforts and recovery efforts,” Latta said during the Dallas City Council’s May 4 meeting. “What that is going to look like is having city hall be open for appointments, so people can call and set up an appointment to meet with any department in city hall. We are starting to allow that. We are also looking at opening up the utility billing counter for two hours each day, and allow people to come in one at a time.”
Latta said a staff member will be on hand to monitor those coming into city hall to ensure safety measures are followed.
“They will provide a mask to a patron coming in if they are not wearing one,” Latta said.
Sneeze guards will be put up at the counter where staff will interact with the public and floor markings will be placed to help people maintain social distancing. Strict cleaning protocols for areas used by the public will be put in place.
“Our staff will also be required to be wearing mask when in engagement with the public or with each other,” Latta said.
He said there are two reasons for taking this step toward reopening.
“II think it will be a sign for the people of Dallas who are really tired of the continuing shutdowns,” Latta said. “This is something that we can do to show there is some action. Local governments are not required to have their doors closed. We did it in an abundance of caution, and I think we need to proceed with caution as we move out of this.”
The second reason is to give people another way to pay utility accounts. Latta said since the COVID-19 closures began, utility accounts that have become delinquent increased from 1 percent to 7 percent. The city has placed a moratorium on shut offs and late fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By making it possible for some people to come into city hall and pay – we hear from some folks that that is the way they like to do it – this will accommodate that,” he said.
Latta said the city is working on the long-term plan for reopening city offices, including creating protocol for in-person meetings of the council and city committees when that is allowed.
“We trying to develop a plan that is consistent with the Polk County reopening plan … as well as with the governor’s directives,” he said.
Latta added the city is applying for grants to help businesses in Dallas.
“One thing that the city is working on is a community development block grant application, which is federal dollar funneled through the state to local jurisdictions,” he said. “The state has reallocated that money to what they are calling small business loans and micro enterprise grants.
Local jurisdictions can apply for up to $150,000 that can go to businesses in Dallas, Latta said. The city will be working with the Polk Community Development Corporation on the application.
“We’re looking forward to hopefully accessing that money, which will be a direct benefit to our businesses in the city of Dallas,” he said.
Dallas City Hall is located at 187 SE Court St. For more information: dallasor.gov or 503-623-2338.