In historic fashion, City Council adopts COVID-19 ordinances
As the COVID-19 virus continues to create new and unusual situations in the medical world and our daily lives, the impact is being felt at even local levels.
For example, the Greencastle City Council, for the first time in 45 years or more, called an emergency meeting Wednesday night.
Not only was it an emergency session called to deal with some of the financial and personnel issues created by COVID-19 and the state’s Stay at Home policy, but it transpired in historic fashion with only Council President Mark Hammer, Mayor Bill Dory, Clerk-Treasurer Lynda Dunbar and City Attorney Laurie Hardwick present in the Council chambers.
The other six councilors – Adam Cohen, Stacie Langdon, Veronica Pejril, Cody Eckert, Dave Murray and Tyler Wade – all were present via speaker phone, something normally in violation of the Open Door Law but allowed only in emergencies like the present circumstances.
And in unanimously approving all four ordinances on the emergency session agenda, the Council did something it has only rarely done since prior to the Mike Harmless Administration in 1988 when separate readings at separate meetings became strict policy. The Council suspended the rules and passed all four ordinances on both first and second reading in order to enact them immediately.
The four ordinances approved were:
-- Ordinance 2020-1: An ordinance to institute a moratorium on water shut-offs and late-payment fines due to threat of COVID-19 virus.
-- Ordinance 2020-2: An ordinance addressing deposit of funds and payment of claims during public health emergency.
-- Ordinance 2020-3: An ordinance addressing sick leave, FMLA, and other personnel matters during a public health emergency.
-- Ordinance 2020-4: An ordinance establishing first responder COVID-19 benefits.
“There’s no playbook for any of this stuff,” Mayor Dory assured. “We’re having to deal with it as it comes flooding at us.”
The first ordinance is self-explanatory. It establishes a moratorium on involuntary water shut-offs until further Council action and also waives any late-payment charges for water, wastewater and trash for bills due April 10 and henceforth until additional Council action.
City Attorney Hardwick noted that Councilor Pejril had first proposed a moratorium on shut-offs prior to the last Council meeting. However, city officials wanted to address the 10 percent late fees as well, she explained.
The second ordinance allows that all funds received by the city will be deposited on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the health emergency. State statute otherwise requires that all funds received by a municipality be deposited by the next day.
The ordinance also designates Councilman Hammer as a sole authority to approve all claims, a duty which normally falls to the complete Council. Councilman Murray will act in Hammer’s absence.
The third ordinance addresses sick leave, FMLA and other personnel matters during the public health emergency by implementing the Family First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress last week.
The act takes effect April 2 and provides paid leave for certain employees for specified times.
The ordinance addresses the Stay At Home order and five classes wherein the employee is directed to stay home from work due to exposure or symptoms of COVID-19 or that the person is caring for or resides with such an individual.
City officials are taking the ordinance “on the road to all departments,” Attorney Hardwick noted.
The ordinance also provides a flex time and additional duties section. Mayor Dory used City Planner Scott Zimmerman (with his knowledge) as an example of how city employees might be moved around to best maximize use during the crisis.
“It allows,” Dory said, “if I decided to take Scott Zimmerman and put him on a mower mowing grass. He may be doing his regular job two or three days a week and another as needed.”
Because all emergency responders – firefighters and police officers – are exempt from certain provisions of Ordinance 2020-3 and ineligible for other FMLA benefits, the Council passed Ordinance 2020-4, which establishes a first responder COVID-19 benefit.
“We all know how important our police and firefighters are,” Hardwick said. “We can’t do without them and they have to deal with the public.”
The ordinance, she said, is “an attempt to acknowledge the position they’re in.”
Under the ordinance, each firefighter will receive a First Responder COVID-19 benefit of $100 per full shift worked.
Each police officer, meanwhile, will receive a benefit of $71.43 per full shift worked.
While firefighters work five shifts in two weeks and could accrue an extra $500 for the period, police officers work seven days over two weeks, which means their $71.43 per-shift benefit would equal $501 over the same period as the firefighters’ $500.
Funds for the first responder benefits will come from the Riverboat Revenue Fund, which is the city’s share of riverboat and casino gambling funds distributed by the state.
With the four ordinances passed unanimously, Mayor Dory took time to praise city employees for their recent actions.
“Our employees have really taken to heart the recommendations of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control),” the mayor said, noting the city expects to receive additional guidance from the state and the CDC.
“Stay home, shelter in place and practice social distancing,” Dory advised the public. “That’s the best thing we can do to support our first responders, not only in the city but across the country.”