A local activist and politician is leading the charge on petitioning Athens City Council, Athens’ administration, and the Athens County Municipal Court to join forces and halt evictions and utility shut-offs as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Damon Krane, who ran for Athens City mayor in 2019 with a platform of housing equality, spoke before Athens City Council Monday, March 16, to ask if anything could be done to help the city of Athens poorest residents.
In his comments, he referenced a petition started by a Millfield resident and addressed to the Athens County Commissioners. The petition asks for three measures:
- A moratorium on all evictions
- A moratorium on utility shutoffs (water, electric and gas)
- Restoration of the water, electric and gas of clients who have been discon
- nected in the past 90 days
The petition text also notes that other cities and states (including New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and New Jersey) have begun to use this kind of response in fighting the coronavirus emergency.
“Let’s make Athens County a model of compassion and action in our region,” the petition states.
Krane noted that the city has halted all water shut-offs during the COVID-19 emergency, and wanted to know where the power lay to halt evictions and utility shut-offs — whether that be the city administration, the courts or even the county commissioners.
However, no one seemed to know the answer during the Monday night meeting. Athens County Commissioner President Lenny Eliason said these matters are also out of the county’s control.
“We don’t have any authority when it comes to that,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “The only thing that we can deal with in that whole petition is the fact that we wouldn’t have any cutoffs or disconnections in the water/sewer system that we manage.”
He noted that those disconnections only occur at the beginning of the month, and so there is still time before the decision must be made. However, he expects it to be a topic of discussion at the next Commissioner meeting, set for 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 19.
“Whoever has the authority, I would just urge all of you, given the level of concern about this and a place where we have some of the worst poverty and income inequality in Ohio, a very low rate of home ownership, to please do whatever you can that is in your power,” Krane said. “Whether that’s urging municipal court judge (Todd) Grace, whether that’s doing something that may be available through council or the city administration to provide not only the immediate relief to the struggling, low-income majority, but also take what I think is a really important public health measure to try and limit the spread of this virus.”
The city released an update on its operations Tuesday afternoon.
- Athens Police Department and Parking Enforcement: the physical building is locked, but officers will meet individuals outside the building. Parking enforcement is continuing, and fines may be paid at any fine payment box located throughout the city. However, the 24-hour parking rules will not be enforced until further notice.
- Municipal Court: limiting cases and continuing many. Contact your attorney for information. The March jury trial has been cancelled. Fines and costs can be paid at athenscountymunicipalcourtpayments.com or by phone at 740-249-2108. Mail-in checks or money order to the court are also accepted.
- Trash and recycling: operating as normal through the Athens-Hocking Recycling Center
- Utilities billing: payments can be made online or through the outside payment drop box in front of city hall. Payments can also be made at Hocking Valley Bank, but no in-person payments will be allowed. Water disconnections have been suspended, and the reconnection fee is being waived with updated payment for the those already disconnected.
- Income tax: available online or by calling 740-592-3337
- Athens Fire Department: Open at both stations, but not accessible for the public.
- Mayor’s Office: Open, but not accessible to the public. Call 740-592-3338.
- Auditor’s Office: Open by phone, not accessible to the public. Call 740-592-3336.
- Law Office / City Prosecutor’s Office: Open and doing business, but limiting outside contact. Call 740-592-3332.
- Engineering and Public Works: No disruption to service, call ahead for deliveries: 740-593-7636.
- Athens Community Center: closed. All programs and activities suspended.
- ArtsWest: closed. All programs and activities suspended.