Restrictions continue for Benton courthouse

Benton County officials discuss restrictions for their courthouse at a meeting Friday, Aug. 21, Vinton.

By Jim Magdefrau

VINTON – Benton County is looking at reopening its courthouse, with some restrictions, at the Friday, Aug. 21, meeting of the Benton County Board of Supervisors.

Auditor Hayley Rippel pointed out few counties are closed now, according to information from the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC). She said it’s important to open up, because people are getting their tax statements now, and it’s hard to tell them that they have to make an appointment to pay their taxes. She added, “When you see the elderly, or somebody with a walker, coming all the way up to our door and then they get rejected, I feel that’s really bad.”

Supervisor Chairman Richard Primmer pointed out this has been going on for two and half months, so it’s nothing new. He’s seen it happen. “My heart went out to the guy, but he was from Linn County,” Primmer observed. He’d also like to have a recommendation from local health officials.

Primmer said that as a board, they would wait until Sept. 15 to do anything different.

Primmer asked Benton County Treasurer Melinda Schoettmer if the restrictions in place will keep people from paying their property taxes. People still want to pay their check and get their receipt, as well as do business with other offices that they need to visit. Officials want to keep people from waiting and “milling around” in the courthouse.

Primmer said he gets numerous phone calls from people who want to open the courthouse. He explained that the county does not want to be inundated. He’s not sure if opening the courthouse will work if people still have to wait.

Supervisor Tracy Seeman was concerned about turning people away.

Benton County Attorney David Thompson said security people are doing what they’ve been told to do. If someone arrives without an appointment, then the elected official can be called. They are still controlling the flow in the building.

If people come to the courthouse to vote, Rippel said they are not required to wear a mask, according to the state’s attorney general and secretary of state. Thompson pointed out there is a real battle over local control.

Rippel added that if someone brings their ballot to the courthouse, it can’t be placed in a drop box. It has to be handed to the auditor’s office.

Seeman asked how the county has to do this. Thompson answered, “I think you do it until it’s prudent not to do it.”

Sheriff Ron Tippett said that above all, the county has to protect its employees, and do its part to protect citizens who are in the building. They also need to maintain the lines in the building. They don’t want people waiting or loitering.

With purchases of equipment, Rippel felt the county is doing the best it can to protect its employees.

Tippett said if someone wants to pay their taxes, they can say so, have their temperature taken, ask the questions, and then “pay your taxes and have a nice day.” If they have to wait, they can wait outside.

It is in the county’s interest, in his talks with health officials, to maintain its policy on no loitering in the rotunda and no lines within the building, Tippett said.

Schedules will be given to the security workers for appointments.

Other business

The board went into closed session to discuss pending litigation.

The supervisors approved the law enforcement contract with Urbana.

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