Benton County courthouse and facilities to continue to be closed to public

Benton County Courthouse

Department heads still have concerns about Covid-19

VINTON – Benton County continues to be cautious about opening to the public, no matter what recommendation comes for the state.

Benton County department heads met with the supervisors Tuesday, May 12, on the possible opening of county offices. Overall, the county felt they should stay the course with what they’re doing.

Benton County Sheriff Ron Tippett said he has been meeting every Monday with the Benton County Health Nurse and emergency management on Covid-19, dealing with long-term care facilities, PPE, and reports on known cases. Tippett related that Benton County was at 35 confirmed cases, with 20 of these cases being recovered. There has been one death early on. About 8,000 have been assessed.

Tippett said they do not believe there have been any cases in their county facilities and courthouse.

“We should just basically hold steady for the time being,” Tippett advised. “Keep on doing what we’re doing. We know it works.” If there was to be a case in the courthouse, then they would move closer to the courthouse not doing business, since it is easily spread. He said that was the recommendation of public health.

“We don’t have it in the building. We should keep it that way for now,” Tippett stressed, no matter what the governor recommends. He recommended the same for the jail, for the safety of the clients, workers and public.

Benton County Attorney David Thompson added, “The courthouse isn’t closed. It’s just closed to the public. We’re still getting work done.” If someone gets infected in a courthouse office, Thompson warned it would be a huge mess.

Those seeking renewals for their vehicles have had their deadlines extended. A meeting was planned that day on how to deal with driver’s licenses, according to Treasurer Melinda Schoettmer. They are encouraging people to renew online. Driver’s license stations are a major concern. They plan to renew licenses by appointment. The county can’t keep people from other counties from renewing in Benton County, but they can prioritize Benton County in their appointments.

Karen Phelps of Benton County Conservation explained the measures recommended for those who want to camp at county parks. There are a lot of restrictions now, she said, including use of shelters and facilities. All summer programs have been cancelled. Some of the programs are online. The cabins, shelters, restrooms and nature center will remain closed.

Supervisor Chairman Richard Primmer observed Benton County is an island, surrounded by the 22-county area that is closed off by the state. He had a feeling Benton County’s parks might be bombarded by those surrounding counties.

Phelps added it is important for the park staff to protect themselves. She is confident her staff can follow the Covid-19 restrictions. She’d like the campgrounds to open, but respects the county’s decision on this.

Primmer asked how they can not allow outsiders into the courthouse, but allow them into the campgrounds. Supervisor Tracy Seeman was also concerned that people who come into the campgrounds might also go into town.

Bierschenk said it would not be good to have someone get sick and pass away because they decided to open the county. “We need to have this closed,” Bierschenk recommended. Tippett agreed. Primmer also agreed with keeping things as they are.

Primmer motioned to keep things as they are until further notice, including the county parks. Despite being closed, Primmer said conservation should be allowed to hire seasonal staff.

Phelps was concerned about the confusion by the public, as the governor says many parks may open, and many parks are open, while Benton County remains closed. She wanted to be clear on the reason they are remaining closed.

Thompson stressed the reasons had been stated many times at the meeting. He added, “With all due respect to the governor, the governor is not in charge of Benton County Parks.”

Primmer suggested the decision be based on the recommendation of Benton County Health. The current courthouse restrictions would be in place until June 1. They will look at conservation and parks again on May 26.

Other business

Kyle Helland received a variance to the subdivision ordinance for a preliminary plat in Section 34, Harrison Township. This is for a land owned by a client of Helland’s, Brian and Renelda Baldus. According to Land Use Administrator Marc Greenlee, this is being done for lending purposes. This is the third split of the property, so the county’s subdivision ordinance came into play. They will come back to the board with a final plat.

Chairman Richard Primmer was not at the meeting, so Supervisor Gary Bierschenk presided. Primmer participated through Zoom.

Benton County Engineer Myron Parizek received approval for utility permits for Keystone Communications in Jackson and Big Grove Townships, where they want to bury telephone cable. They also approved a wage and classification change for Eric Hummel, secondary roads. The new classification wage is $22.37 per hour. Supervisor Tracy Seeman gave an update on problems on a dirt road near Newhall with fiber optic work. He also asked Parizek what it costs to inspect bridges on the Old Creamery recreation trail. Parizek said it costs about $200 per bridge for an inspection. It’s based on the number of bridges the county has inspected each year.

Approval was given for season help for the weed commissioner. They hope to start spraying by the end of the week. There was discussion on how the frost wiped out some of the weeds the previous Saturday, and that weeds are behind in growth. They expect to play catch-up as the weather gets warmer.

Primmer gave an update on the food pantry in Vinton.

There are concerns about how to help the large number of people getting food at the pantry, especially during inclement weather. Though crowded, there is not a shortage of food, according to officials. There is a shortage of volunteers due to Covid-19.

Covering a topic from the week before, Primmer reported the Shellsburg Mayor was going to take it to his city council about relocating the recycling equipment to the city’s maintenance building. It is now on county property, but is mainly used by city residents and businesses. Primmer was also concern about the trash that accumulates at the recycling equipment. While it is an option to just take the equipment out of there, it is not a good situation to have the waste ending up in the county’s ditches.

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