BISBEE – Due to the effects of COVID-19 on the city, the mayor and city council agreed to waive inspection fees charged to businesses for fire inspections Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.

During the regular meeting July 21, City Manager Theresa Coleman explained the city received almost $600,000 from the CARES fund for fire and police wages. The amount carried forward from the previous fiscal year could be used to offset the fees and the salary of the fire marshal performing the inspections.

“Because it does cover the fire marshal, I’m asking us to assist commercial businesses and incentivize our fire inspection program and waive the fees for those scheduled from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31,” Coleman said. “The feeling is that it’s more important that we do the inspections than collect the fees at this point in time.”

When asked by Councilwoman Joan Hansen if the city could continue the program if the economic condition of city businesses due to COVID-19 persists, Coleman said the council could extend the waivers, though it would not be covered with CARES money.

The city continues to take a serious stand on notices of violations on properties with unpaid taxes and fees. The mayor and council approved a notice of intent to adopt an ordinance that would transfer to the city six parcels above Ok Street on Chihuahua Hill owned by William D. Lyon.

Coleman said the properties have no structures on them, but they have accumulated “items” that present eyesores to neighborhood and a fire hazard. Lyons was contacted and told he could transfer the property to the city for community development activities. He agreed.

There are past due taxes on the property of $11,536 and the city will work with him to bring the property into a free and clear state to minimize the city’s investment.

Since there are no structures on the properties, there are no addresses, Coleman added. However, city building inspector Joe Ward could assign address numbers if the council wanted it done.

Mayor David Smith said the neighbors’ complaints led to the measure.

Smith and councilmembers Louis Pawlik, Leslie Johns, Bill Higgins, Hansen and Anna Cline approved the notice.

In other business, a corrected court consolidation agreement with Cochise County was approved after the “Purpose” paragraph was left off of the agreement approved at the July 7 meeting.

Coleman gave a historical report on the former city magistrate figures as requested by Councilwoman Joni Giacomino, who was excused from the meeting. The last year the city had a magistrate was 2006, and the city paid a little more than $80,000 for the salaries of the judge and two assistants. The city derived about $41,000 in income, causing the city to subsidize $39,000 difference.

In 2013 the city paid the magistrate $12,000 and paid the county $34,747, totaling $46,747.

In 2020, with the annual agreement with the county the city just approved, the city pays $24,760.

Coleman also provided an accounting of ambulance fees over the years. Prior to July 2017, the city had a contract with Fry Fire to collect the fees.

There are still outstanding bills totaling $453,602.

The city then contracted with Ambiserve from July 2017 to January 2020. Outstanding bills total $44,746.

In January 2020, the city switched to AMB, which has outstanding bills totaling $237,928.

“It represents 230 patients who were billed,” Coleman said. “Of those, 63 are on self pay due to lack of insurance coverage or insurance coverage did not cover the complete cost of service. At least half of those owe more than $900.”

That leaves the city with a total of $736,276 in uncollected fees, she said.

“We’ll come back to you with proposals with proposals that these folks could take advantage of that would take them out of the category of them owning the city money at the next meeting,” Coleman said.

She announced the city will offer lifetime dog licenses for $25, which can be purchased at the police department beginning Aug. 1.

Owners will be able to update rabies shot information online and the QR code on each tag will help identify owners of lost dogs so they can be notified.

Dog owners who already have a license will be able to trade in the old license and pay just $15 for the new lifetime license on Sept. 1.

Dog licenses are required by the city.

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