ELGL hosted a virtual hangout at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, March 13, 2020. These are the notes and video from the call.
Please share resources and information from your local government at ELGL.org/COVID-19.
Update from Amrinder Singh from Norristown, PA on their efforts: 830K residents in the county, and Norristown is the county seat. A very densely populated county. A county challenge is one of the highest rates of cases – 41 cases in PA and 18 are from Montgomery County. Many more people being tested. Some precautionary measures being taken:
- Very strong rental inspection program. All scheduled inspections have been suspended. The only type of housing complaints that will be inspected are emergency (e.g. no water, electrical, etc.).
- Permits will only be issued on an emergency basis to ensure that the staff does not have to go to people’s homes.
- City is reaching out to the utilites (water and electric) to ask for nonpayment relief for people who cannot pay. Concern for families with children at home because of closed schools, and without water. Same for electricity company. And are planning to waive fees until May 1.
- As the County seat, many communities looking to Norristown to see if the city is shutting down buildings/facilities/services.
- Norristown School District have vehicles for meal pickup for families that depend on free or reduced meals at schools while schools are closed.
- Kimberly Shigeoka from Albemarle County, VA: Similarly we’ve cancelled all Parks and Rec classes and rentals, all rentals at our Fire Stations, and community room rentals at our County Office Buildings.
- Paula Priebe from Big Rapids, MI: The City of Big Rapids is implementing very similar policies to those being described. All non-emergency inspections in residences have been suspended. We are also turning back on water service that has been shut off.
Question: how have you known what to do in an emergency?
- Amrinder: lucky to have a talented manager, who has followed best practices in emergency situations.
- Staff has done a lot of the FEMA ICS classes to help them manage and understand what can potentially happen.
Question: How are you and your department/organization preparing for “continuity of operations” in case staff become ill or are out caring for family?
- COOP has been a topic on all of our calls today and we’re hopeful that our members will upload and share their plans at ELGL.org/COVID-19.
- Alannah Doak: Delta Township, MI here! for continuity of operations, our Township has closed all facilities to the public through April 5. During this time, we have asked our staff to work remotely if possible. Obviously there are services that we need to come in for. In doing this, we are staggering employees. One person per dept at all times unless necessary. If near others, keep a distance. Our Utilities department is mimicking “snow day” operations. We have canceled passport operations, rental inspections, all events and programming.
- We are also directing all payments, permit applications, program registration, etc. to our website.
Question: I’m curious to know what types of social distancing measures other cities have implemented so that critical staff can remain working in city facilities? I’m particularly focused on measures for city operations/management of staff rather than City-provided services.
- Kimberly Shigeoka: We’re encouraging social distancing, asking employees to stay home if experiencing respiratory symptoms, Departments have been asked to start having continuity conversations with their staff to identify core functions that must be maintained (public safety but also things like payroll running if we’re out that long)
- In Big Rapids, MI, every building is taking different approaches to social distancing. In City Hall, taking measures to limit public access into the building, including the types of payments being accepted. Setting aside one conference room for public meetings. Have not yet staggered staff. If staff are feeling well, they can come in to the office, if they aren’t or have sick family members, they stay home. Trying to figure out leave policies and be as respectful and generous as possible. As a smaller community they are still planning on holding community meetings.
- One important thing to note is keeping our department heads and their deputy away from each other in case one becomes ill/quarantined then we will still have someone able to run their department.
- Hillsboro, OR running into some technology limitations – the number of laptops, VPN connections, etc. and they might need to be reallocated. They realize they might need to have staff come in and can’t have everyone work remotely.
Question: what are communities doing about holding public meetings when there are imprtant issues that still need to be discussed.
- In Norristown, they have stringent open meetings laws and because of that, they cannot meet because they can only meet in person (virtual meetings are not allowed).
- On other calls today, some local governments talked about alternative ways that community members could engage with the council/board discussion via electronic/digital tools.
Question: any experiences with social distancing on a public transit system?
- Big Rapids, MI: We operate a dial-a-ride transit system, and we have chosen to limit the number of passengers per bus to 4, with staggered seating. We’ve also chosen to not accept payment at this time, but to track passengers and bill later.
Question: Any thoughts from anyone on how to handle the upcoming elections? We currently have absentee voting and are promoting that but any other thoughts?
- Winter Park, CO: We put out CDC statement about best practices for election. Ironically our voting booths are connected so we cannot separate them. We ordered extra absentee ballots and are encouraging absentee voting and are encouraging off-time voting
- Alannah Doak: In Michigan, our poll workers were wiping down door handles, had lots of hand sanitizer available and wiped down any pens they could.
- Kimberly Shigeoka: We’re leveraging social media, we have an a-mail subscription email and encouraging community members to encourage others to sign-up for that, and letting our local media know as well
Question: any agencies dealing with or worried about lost revenues?
- Winter Park, CO: also dealing with possibility of lost revenue, and have stopped major capital purchases, but I think that is also weighing into the level of our response
- Norristown, PA: stopped issueing tickets for grass and trash – warning letter instead of fines. Same with parking tickets. So this will affect fees and fines revenues.
Question: for proactive emergency responsiveness measures, did any require council approval or were they already in place?
- Amrinder in Norristown: the city administrator empowered department directors to put in motion the different response recommendations for their operational areas. Trying to take a common sense approach.
Question: are any communities changing the due dates for tax bills or other invoices? Pushing the dates out into the future?
- In Big Rapids, MI: tax bill dates are set by charter. They are also not charging any penalty or late fees for various fees and fines (e.g. library fines, etc.)
Question: My name is charlie Francis and I am a retired finance director from the city of Sausalito. If I was still the finance director, I would be taking the action items recommended in the linked article. who is taking similar actions? What three action items can local government fiscal officers take today to protect their public agencies from Coronavirus?