Supervisors debate courthouse reopening date

In an ongoing debate over the right time and way to reopen the Page County Courthouse, the county Board of Supervisors spoke with several department heads and health officials during their June 16 meeting.

Based on advice given and uncertainty of risks, the supervisors decided to hold off reopening until sometime in July, possibly around July 13.

Page County Public Health Administrator Jessica Erdman advised the supervisors there were 17 cases of COVID-19 in Page County. She told the supervisors her office was doing some targeted testing which could cause a spike in Page County’s numbers. Erdman also believed many nursing homes were going to be doing some testing.

Erdman acknowledged that Gov. Kim Reynolds has released most of the COVID-19 guidelines, but explained the governor is still pushing the 6-foot social distancing rule.

Erdman said area schools are all working on “return to learn” plans, as they have to have three program plans for online attendance, in-person attendance, or a mixture of both sent to the state by July 15. Erdman said she had been working with the schools to try to develop those plans.

Regarding availability of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, she said she had been reaching out to sources for hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves and masks, and finding that a lot of suppliers still limited what they could send.

Erdman added that 22 states are seeing a spike in cases, and China is also seeing new cases again.

The supervisors discussed their last plans to open the courthouse the first or second week of July, and agreed they were still comfortable with assessing the matter weekly, and waiting a few weeks into July to open if necessary. All agreed the most important thing was to continue to provide necessary services and ensure safety was a priority when they did reopen. It was suggested waiting until after July 4, and supervisor Chuck Morris wanted to match courthouse reopening to when the courts reopen.

In agreement about waiting, the supervisors moved on to a discussion of creating standard procedures for when the courthouse is open.

They considered a policy of having only one designated entry door and a different exit door, but department heads pointed out this could be a problem for handicapped and elderly people.

Morris asked the other supervisors and the department heads present whether the courthouse should be letting people in with or without masks or barring those without masks. Some staff said their offices were requiring visitors to wear masks, which could be pulled down to talk if need be at the counter, but must be pulled back up to leave the office.

Most of the department representatives said they thought everyone should be wearing masks in the common areas of the courthouse. It was pointed out, though, that not all courthouse staff was wearing masks everywhere, and that there had been comments from the public about it. The supervisors agreed if they were going to ask the public to wear masks through common areas, employees should do the same, for everyone’s protection.

Morris asked Page County Emergency Management Coordinator Kris Grebert whether the county would be able to supply employees with masks and visitors with hand sanitizer, and was told the county didn’t have them but could get them. Morris acknowledged the courthouse would be going through a huge amount of sanitizer, masks and wipes, likely at outrageous cost. Grebert and Page County Auditor Melissa Wellhausen said obtaining needed sanitizing and disinfecting wipes was difficult and they were usually on back order.

It was agreed Wellhausen would work with Erdman to create general guidelines for entry and office procedures that will be in place when the courthouse reopens.

The supervisors discussed the provision of supervisor meetings by Zoom and technical difficulties. Morris admitted the meeting held the last week in a large room was an audio disaster, and suggested a solution would be needed if the county would continue to make meetings available to the public in that manner in the future. The other supervisors agreed they would like to continue providing the option if possible, and Morris said he and others were working on some potential solutions that might cost in the range of $400-$1,000. He will bring information to the next supervisors meeting.

In response to a peaceful protest held recently, the supervisors decided they should discuss courthouse lawn policy. Morris said it had been a standing rule that people who wanted to use the courthouse lawn ask for permission from the Board of Supervisors. He said it had been done that way so long he just assumed it was written policy, but he recently discovered the county didn’t actually have a policy on the subject.

He suggested it might be wise to have a policy in place, and pointed out anytime anyone is on the lawn/premises, the county’s liability insurance is in effect. Morris also noted if it was a permission-based process, the supervisors would have some control if a really inappropriate group or event was planned.

The other supervisors were concerned it would be a difficult policy to write, and might be too limiting in future. Morris suggested maybe it should just say groups who wish to use courthouse premises/lawn must make a request to the Board of Supervisors in advance.

The other supervisors agreed this might be simple enough and not too difficult to change in future if circumstances warranted. Supervisor Jon Herzberg suggested there should also be something in the policy requiring groups who used the premises to pay for repairs for anything damaged as a result of their use.

Morris will work on a sample policy and bring it back to the board next week for discussion/approval.

In other action, Page County Engineer J.D. King told the supervisors he had men hauling rock and blading roads, mowing and seeding, and had one guy willing to spray weeds.

King said the county was sending out a request for fuel bids for next year’s fuel this week and should receive those back in the next few weeks.

King said the county was near the end of the fiscal year and showing $3,644,791 in road use and TIME 21 actual receipts. The county had budgeted $3,398,500, so they were $264,000 to the good. He warned, though, that this made it apparent the slowdown in road use tax money from decreased travel and auto sales had not hit yet, so it would be important to stay aware in future.

Regarding EWP project process, King said:

• Project 1- there will be a letting July 2 for parts west of College Springs, south of Coin, and north of Coin;

• Project 2- a pre-construction meeting has just been completed, and contractor A.M. Cohron might start work in July;

• Project 3-is on hold for DNR and possibly Corps of Engineer permits;

• Project 4-site plans need tuning up, and a letting might be held in a few weeks, and

• Project 5-work continues on right of ways.

King also made a special announcement and showed video of an invention created by his crew that rolls snow fence up more quickly than they had ever been able to do it by hand. King said they had entered the invention in Iowa’s Build a Better Mousetrap Competition and won first place in the State of Iowa. Someone from Local Technical Assistance Program will come down to celebrate the achievement and have a pizza party with his crew.

Brandy Powers told the supervisors the county has qualified for a 5% discount ISAC wellness program discount for the next year, thanks to the cooperation and participation of county employees. Powers said some of that success was due to rule changes which didn’t require physical doctor visits during the pandemic, and a lot of it was due to good employees. Powers said the wellness committee had met in the last week and decided to reward employees who complete certain actions with Chamber Bucks.

The supervisors asked if there was any penalty for those who don’t complete wellness priorities, and was told they pay 5% more on their insurance. Powers said there were only four individuals who hadn’t done their assessments, and reminders and progress sheets were sent out. The supervisors suggested if information of who hadn’t complied couldn’t be sent to department heads, maybe they could at least be notified when final notices went out, so they could encourage all of their employees to complete anything they hadn’t done.

In other business, the supervisors:

• approved a tax abatement for the abandoned property at 213 Fourth Street, now owned by the City of Shambaugh;

• will meet with department heads in July to see ways they can cut costs if COVID-19 affects the county budget, and

• heard about issues the Veterans Administration is having with their transportation program and inability to get drivers willing to do everything necessary to comply with COVID-19 regulations.

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