Courthouse staff consider lessons learned and tightening belts

The Page County Board of Supervisors and county department heads talked about lessons learned from COVID-19, and ways to tighten their belts in future if need be at the supervisors’ July 28 meeting.

Page County Public Health Administrator Jessica Erdman told the supervisors there were 57 cases of COVID-19 in the county as of that day, and investigations were almost tripled. On the afternoon of July 30 coronavirus.iowa.gov listed 66 cases in the county. Erdman said with every case they were having to contact more and more people checking for close contacts.

Supervisor Chuck Morris addressed the department heads, thanking them for their efforts and acknowledging that COVID-19 created many opportunities for failure, but the county did well, and hadn’t dropped services to the county’s residents. Morris asked each department head to discuss what they had learned while working around the pandemic, and since the county’s future revenue is unknown, how they thought their departments could save some money if there was a budget crunch.

Page County Emergency Management Coordinator Kris Grebert said he had learned county emergency management had no personal protective equipment (PPE) supply/inventory, and in the future he would keep a small supply. Grebert noted he had worked with IT to set up a link so he could work from home and still link with the dispatch center if need be. He said with dispatch working 24/7 there was really no place to cut budget there, but the county could save some money by having him work from home. He thought his schooling budget could be cut some, too, if needed.

Page County Treasurer Angie Dow said she had learned to let customers know about other service options, and that so much can be done online. She noted they had also learned how to be much more efficient when it comes to drivers licenses. She suggested the county could eliminate offering Commercial Driving License services to save money, as they are one of only 12 counties offering them. Dow said the maximum daily revenue from CDL services is only $21, while the cost of providing those services that day would be a minimum of $200. She indicated most of the people coming in for CDLs were not Page County residents anyway, with only 20% to 40% being locals.

Janet Olsen of Page County Veterans Affairs said she had been reaching out to retired veterans and telling them how the county respects them, and inviting them to come live here. She said she blogs and gets on Facebook and talks to the veterans. She added that just that week she had veterans from different states buying homes in the county. Olsen added that this was no time for her to shut the office down. Morris assured her it was not on the supervisors’ radar to shut down services.

Page County Conservation Director (NAME) said he had learned there was no good method in place for the conservation board to get information out to the public. He said he had set up a Facebook page and worked with IT on the website. He indicated the department’s finances hadn’t taken a major hit during the pandemic, but said he did see a lot of grant opportunities drying up. His department was cutting back where they could and putting small projects on hold, and would continue to do so.

Page County Sheriff Lyle Palmer said his department was doing their best to sanitize more and go a little further in the jail. He said the situation made it clear they needed to be strong and stand up for what was right, but have some compassion, and understand what people are dealing with. Palmer noted this wasn’t just about COVID, but also the protests. He expected to see COVID issues for quite a while, saying it wasn’t just going to go away. He added that if affects everyone, but not the same, and they have to take that into consideration. Palmer said his department uses masks, social distances where they can.

Budget-wise, Palmer said he can’t take from dispatch; that is 24/7, and a reduction in staff is not feasible, but he is using staff as judiciously as possible.

“When people call or come in, they want help,” Palmer noted, “We can’t not serve. It’s the same as the courthouse. Especially the elderly; they’re really scared right now, and they’d prefer face to face contact, but they’re scared to even go to the doctor now.”

The Page County Attorney’s Office noted that 90% of what they do is criminal prosecution. In mid-March to early April there was a little slow down, but it picked back up. The court system ground to a halt, though, until it started back up in July. Now 4-5 months of cases will be shoehorned into September/October. The required masks made it very hard to hear people even with a microphone system, and it was unknown what the pandemic was going to do to the jury pool.

The vast majority of expenses in the county attorney’s office are personnel, but there was no fat to cut there. It was suggested that taking required continuing legal education (CLE) courses online has saved the county some money, and they could continue to do that.

Page County Engineer J.D. King said his office doesn’t see a lot of traffic anyway, but they will continue to do as much on the phone and by mail as possible.

Page County Auditor Melissa Wellhausen said she had learned the county needed to change the strategy regarding elections, reaching out to the public and making elections safe. Cleaning efficiently has also been a big drive.

In other business, King provided the supervisors with the following weekly update:

• Bladers were out on gravel roads, the county was hauling rock with four trucks, mowers were out that day, spray patching was taking place and the pipe crew was delivering barrel sections of pipe that day;

• The outside contractor installed pipe in two locations a day earlier; one had been rocked and the other soon would be;

• A dirt crew was on the A Ave. bridge, working on cross road pipe that day;

• The culvert north of Northboro was opened to traffic a week or two ago, and they’re waiting on dry weather to seed/mulch, and

• FM Project 138 was let last week, for work similar to seal coating that involves a thicker surface aggregate than regular seal coat.

King said the focus is still on EWP work, and the following work was underway:

• Project 2-sites 1 and 12 were being worked on;

• Project 3-site 8 was being reviewed;

• Project 4-was scheduled to let July 30. There was more interest in this one than the previous. Prebid meeting was July 23 for sites 9 and 10, and

• Project 5-doing reviews on sites 6,7 and11.

Paperwork associated with federal money was filled out. King said he requested a 60-day extension of the deadline on projects.

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