The city of Ceres doesn’t mind people walking through or hanging out in its parks but has closed off common play areas, such as playground equipment and the skating bowls at Smyrna Park.
The actions to “kind of” close parks – in the words of City Manager Toby Wells – comes as governmental agencies continue to ratchet down public activities in an effort to reduce the spreading of the coronavirus.
“We have all the playground areas signed as closed but we’re not prohibiting people from being in the parks as long as they’re practicing social distancing,” said Wells. “We’re not going to arrest anybody, just try to make sure there’s not large groups of people congregating.”
The parking lot of Smyrna Park has been closed off this week.
Wells said the city recognizes that for physical and emotional wellbeing, people do need to go outdoors, whether it’s to sit, exercise, run or walk.
“If you’re in the same family and walking around the park there’s no issue. If you’re in the park we have no issue.”
The county Public Health Department this week ordered all park children’s play areas to be closed to use.
The city has made adjustments in the way it does business with a vast number of employees losing their jobs because of the economy seizing up following state orders for residents to stay at home and refrain from doing non-essential work. A state executive order forbids municipalities from discontinuing water, sewer or garbage service if they can’t pay their utility bill.
“We’re not shutting anybody off. We actually restored services to folks who were turned off for non-payment.”
He said utility bills are still due and the cities are hoping the state offers guidance on how to recover the costs as well as any late fees that are charged to an overdue account.
“Nobody knows how this thing ends.”
It remains to be seen if cities will be reimbursed under federal disaster funds.
Wells said if residents “have the ability to pay their bills they should pay them, period. If they can’t, then we’re going to work with people the best we can but we don’t know what the outcome is. Is this for 60 days or 120 days? Nobody knows. For us to predict what’s going to happen at the end of this is just impossible.”
The city’s next billing cycle goes out April 7.
A looming problem for cities like Ceres will be the loss of sales tax revenue since most retail stores have been forced to close.
“It’s going to be huge problem,” said Wells. “We’re going to see a huge hit. We don’t have any way of estimating the impact at this point.”