County works to open its facilities and offices

Benton County officials discuss how they will open offices to the public. With restrictions, they hope to open their offices by June 15.

VINTON – Benton County officials decided to work to have employees back and offices ready to open to the public by June 15, with restrictions.

Officials had a special meeting in Vinton to work on plan to open area facilities and offices to the public. They with the Benton County Board of Supervisors on Friday, May 29, in Vinton.

Sheriff Ron Tippett updated the board on his meeting with the director of public health for Benton County. People are encouraged to continue social distancing and use protective equipment. Court officials urged screening at the courthouse entrance and require protective equipment. This means having a nurse at the entrance. It was felt the local hospital could provide somebody.

Scott Hansen, emergency management director, pointed out how protective equipment is issued.

The court system has a draft on guidance to open buildings, Hansen said, which includes screening, cleaning and signage. The court also has to get its own protective equipment. They want to open July 13, according to Hansen, for non-jury trials. Jury trials might start Sept. 14.

Courts will rely on video conferencing until then, according to Clerk of Court Julie Hessenius.

Tippett said he’d like to see the building restricted. No one should be in the rotunda area. One person at a time should be allowed in the courthouse, as long they have who have courthouse business. Hansen said people are encouraged to so what they can do online.

Tippett stressed the need to “watch the curve” as the state starts to open up its offices. The more they can watch the numbers and observe what’s going on, the better chance they have of keeping the virus out of the county’s facilities.

Lexa Speidel, recorder, related that some neighboring counties are opening in June. She questioned how long should they wait to open.

County Attorney David Thompson felt most people understand what the courthouse is doing, and understand that if just one positive case gets into the building and has contact with two to three offices, it can be shut down in a hurry.

The recorder, auditor and treasurer have a lot of public traffic. Benton County Treasurer Melinda Schoettmer outlined how her office will require appointments for issuing driver’s licenses. There is also a drop box that the auditor and treasurer can use for renewals. There was debate on requiring that patrons were masks.

As for a date, the county is looking at June 15, giving time to get plans and procedures in place so offices can prepare. The public also needs to be informed. It also gives more time to watch the curve.

As for conservation, they will stay at Level 1 for parks, and might open up shower houses, restrooms and playground equipment after June 5 to be at Level 2, and then be ready for Level 3 by the June 17 with use of cabins and open air shelters. Conservation Director Karen Phelps said they are monitoring at two-week intervals. Her conservation board is also looking at what other counties are doing. They are keeping camping at six people per group and making sure they adhere to social distancing.

Thompson urged the need for a written policy that can be looked at before a decision is made. He felt it was a good idea to require a mask.

Supervisor Tracy Seeman was worried about a jump in the curve as more things open up. Tippett agreed that it can’t go back to the “old normal.”

“It will be a new normal, We don’t know what that looks like,” Tippett added.

Benton County Auditor Rippel added this is also going to affect everyone’s budgets. “We have to keep us healthy, but yet we have to continue to doing our work. That’s what we’re being paid to do,” she said. They still have to pay the bills and people want their paychecks.

Sanitarian and Land Use Administrator Marc Greenlee said he sees people out in the public. There are parts of his job he can’t do over the telephone.

Greenlee summarized, “Life has to go on, so we’re going to assume some risk because we are employees.” Greenlee agreed that screening is needed as things are opened up. He also saw the need for appointments. They need to follow a policy, and the policy has to be a good one.

Discussion also was held on extending deadlines on licenses, registration and property taxes. There was also discussion of requiring employees to come back to work at their offices, even if they are at risk in terms of health, and are able to work at home.

Officials are to get information to Hansen on setting up a policy. He hoped to have one ready by the following week. They hope to go over the plan at the Tuesday, June 2 meeting, and get the information to the public.

Wages

The board approved a wage and classification change for Richard McNamara, who works out of Van Horne. He has been with secondary roads for six months. His wage is now $21.47 per hour.

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