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GALENA– The Jo Daviess County Board at its emergency Thursday, March 19 meeting approved the Jo Daviess County emergency disaster declaration. The declaration allows for federal and state funds to flood into the county if the need arises.
The meeting set the precedent of a new norm under Executive Order 5, which suspended some open meetings act stipulations. Nine board members were present and seven members were present via the Zoom app and teleconfererenced.
“Though we have not had a case of COVID-19 yet, it will get here eventually,” said chairman Scott Toot.
The board agreed to suspend in-person attendance at the meeting and to continue utilizing teleconferencing while the state executive order is in effect.
The county board is also limiting the number of county committee meetings due to COVID-19 concerns and only a joint finance and executive committee, the zoning board, and the full board will meet.
Toot recommended that all other meetings and other ancillary meetings to be cancelled for the time being.
“We do need to reduce the number of meetings that we have. There is no reason to have some of these meetings with all of this going on,” said Toot.
“I was hoping that we could see this as the new norm and practice having these meetings electronically, if we need to plan for after this,” said board member Hendrica Regez.
Toot said that at this time the board needs to concentrate solely on the concerns raised from COVID-19.
Concerns with staff health
The board approved plans for limiting on-site staffing for county departments during COVID-19. All county offices, except for the sheriff’s office are running limited staffs.
“I think that we even need to have a contingency plan in place if we need to close everything down,” said board member Steve Allendorf.
Policy was also changed to allow for employee absences during a catastrophic emergency.
The policy changes allow for telecommunication options for staff members, which allows them to work from homes. Department heads will determine what business and which employees are essential and must remain in the courthouse.
“In essence, what I recommend is to do exactly what the state of Illinois is doing for teachers right now, which is this is an act of God and employees will receive full pay and they will not be required to use any vacation or sick time,” said state’s attorney John Hay. “They aren’t being asked to stay home for anything they did, they are being asked to stay home to keep themselves safe as well as members of the public.”
Amending the budget
The county budget was also amended due to COVID-19 as the board transferred $338,949.58 in funds from the public health capital investment fund to the catastrophic public health emergency fund. That amount was transferred out of the catastrophic public health emergency fund for the fiscal year 2019 budget in anticipation of the building of a dental clinic in Elizabeth.
Since those plans have been scrapped, the county saw it necessary for those funds to be transferred back to the catastrophic health emergency fund for the pandemic.
The board also implemented prioritized options for reducing expenses which includes a hiring freeze on any new or vacant positions, which can only be filled with approval of the county board. They also approved a delay in budgeted projects over $25,000 and a moratorium on capital improvements or purchase of major equipment over $25,000. Those that are necessary must be approved by the county board. The board has also put a limitation on new purchases and no purchases will be processed by the county unless it is an essential operating good, contract, grant order or a repair to equipment and emergencies.
Toot took the time to thank all staff members who have taken the efforts in trying to halt the spread of COVID-19 in the various county departments. He also applauded the efforts of Chuck Pedersen, Jo Daviess County Emergency Management Agency director, and Sandra Schleicher, public health administrator. He believes the staff the county has in place is suited for getting the county through these trials and tribulations.
Board member Bob O’Connor was concerned about the utilization of technology at the meetings and if teleconferences were to continue he would need to excuse himself from the board as he doesn’t have the capabilities to attend if he had to teleconference.
Board member Don Hill agreed with O’Connor and shared the same concerns about limited internet access at times at his home.
John Schultz, board member, is concerned about the damage that had been done to the country as a result of COVID-19.
“I fear that what we have done to the country might be insurmountable, we have been through similar situations with SARS and H1N1, but we didn’t bring the country to its knees,” said Schultz. “We are with this, it will take a hell of a lot of time to get back and it won’t take a few months, this will go on and there will be a big recession and there will be excrement hitting the fan and we will be on the side where it is coming out.”