Abby officials put COVID plans into place
With city council members sprawled out across the council chambers — staying at least six feet apart — Abbotsford’s elected officials met March 25 to discuss how the city plans to keep operating amid a global pandemic that has reached Central Wisconsin.
Six of the seven council members attended the meeting in person, with Ald. Dennis Kramer participating by phone.
The only public comment came from resident Jim Colby, who urged everyone to take the corornavirus seriously. He noted that someone close to him contracted the potentially deadly disease.
“I think we should really try not to gather in public places. If they’re nonessential meetings or discussions, I don’t think we can have them,” he said. “It spreads impossibly fast; you don’t know if you have it or not. I think we should take extra caution, especially if there are going to be public meetings coming up with more people.”
As one of its first orders of business, the council adopted a resolution ratifying a March 18 declaration of emergency signed by Mayor Lori Voss, authorizing her to approve the purchase of emergency goods, materials and services.
City administrator Dan Grady said if the council did not adopt the resolution, the city would not be eligible for FEMA reimbursements in the future. The resolution expires on April 19, so Grady said it will need to be extended by the council on a month-by-month basis.
“If there is a point in time where we can’t meet, we’re going to send out an email so you can all individually go through all the bills,” Voss told council members, adding that she would give the council two days to review the bills before she signs the checks.
Grady also said the agenda packets will be continue to be posted online.
To comply with the state’s open meetings law, the council also voted to utilize the GoToMeeting app, which will allow councilors and members of the public to participate in meetings by calling a phone number and dialing a code that will be listed on the agenda.
Grady said people will still be able to attend meetings in-person, but the hope is to minimize the number of people in the council chambers at one time.
“Our primary goal has to be to protect everybody in the room, and the general public, while keeping the meeting as open as possible,” he said.
The cost of GoToMeeting is $14 per month, and the city can cancel the service at any time. Grady said the city is not set to video-stream its meetings at this point, but GoToMeeting will allow up to 150 people to listen in.
“After this crisis is over, the council may find they want to keep it,” he said. “That’s up to you guys.”
Mayor Voss made it clear that she’s not going to compel council members or city staff to attend meetings in person.
“It is everyone’s choice to be here,” she said. “ I’m not going to make it mandatory that you be here.”
A public hearing originally scheduled for this past Monday was cancelled after it became clear that a lot of residents wanted to weigh in on a controversial proposal to rezone lots in the Schilling subdivision to make way for two more apartment buildings.
“There was going to be a lot of people there, and it just wasn’t going to be safe,” Grady said Monday.
As far as the city’s day-to-day operations, the public works crew and city staff are still doing their jobs as normal, Grady said, but entrance into city buildings has been restricted to prevent municipal employees from being exposed to the COVID virus.
If someone at city hall or on the public works crew gets COVID, the entire department would have to be quarantined at home for two weeks, Grady said. In that case, he said the mayor could use her emergency powers to hire MSA Professional Services to operate the city’s water and sewer facilities while city employees were away. Grady said, in that scenario, he thinks city employees should continue to be paid as normal.
“I can say that if we pay them, FEMA is going to reimburse that money,” he said. “And we would engender a lot of goodwill with employees if we do that.”
Grady said the city is keeping track of all of its COVID-related expenses, with an expectation that FEMA will reimburse Abbotsford for 75 percent.
Regarding the upcoming April 7 election, Grady said a new executive order from Gov. Tony Evers or a court decision could result in the elections being postponed or restricted to mail-in ballots. He urged residents to consider voting absentee, and said they can get a ballot sent to them by going to MyVote.Wi.Gov.
“As of right now, the elections are scheduled as planned,” he said. “We will have in-person voting as normal.”