Supervisors Declare Local Emergency in COVOID-19 Fight

By Heather Michon

The Fluvanna Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve a Declaration of Local Emergency in the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic at the start of their regular meeting on Wednesday (March 18). This move allows the county’s emergency coordinators to take actions to protect the public and will eventually allow Fluvanna to apply for state and federal funds to help mitigate the impact of the emergency on the county finances.

This was a very different meeting from just two weeks ago. With the county courthouse closed, the meeting was moved to a small room in the County Administration Building. Only a handful of chairs–widely spaced to maintain some social distance — were set up for staff and members of the public.

Of the five board members, only Chair Mike Sheridan (Columbia) and Supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) were physically present for the meeting. Supervisor Mozell Booker (Fork Union) and Supervisor Patricia Eager (Palmyra) both suffer from lung conditions; Supervisors Tony O’Brien (Rivanna) was feeling unwell and stayed home “out of an abundance of caution.”

As it may be necessary for supervisors to self-isolate during the period of emergency, they also passed a resolution allowing them to join by teleconference “due to disability, medical condition, personal matter, or declared state of emergency.”

They also approved a resolution allowing County Administrator Eric Dahl and his staff to make procurements during a public health emergency without having to go through all the usual procurement steps or wait until the next board meeting for approval. Dahl assured the members he would keep them up-to-date on any potential expenditures.

While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Fluvanna County to that point, Dahl said “I don’t think it’s a matter of if we get it, but when.” (In fact, the first case in Fluvanna was identified on March 20.) He said that county staff was understandably anxious about what the coming days might bring. With schools closed, they were allowing parents with children at home a “liberal leave policy.” He and his team were working to get people set up to work remotely when possible and redoubling the cleaning and sanitizing of workplaces for those who had to work on-site.

To reduce potential exposure for staff, public access to county buildings was being reduced or eliminated. With the exception of the Board of Supervisors, all commissions and boards are suspended. The public will be encouraged to reach out to the county by phone or email, and to send in taxes and fees by online payments, drop boxes, or the mail.

Staff was also looking at ways to keep staff paid if the county was forced by illness to simply shut down for a period of weeks or months. Sheridan said it was important to retain hourly staff and to keep money flowing for the duration of the emergency.

Human Resources director Jessica Rice said there was a plan in place to keep the paychecks flowing and to track data and expenditure for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) down the road.

Propose tax rates and public hearing

The emergency falls at a particularly bad moment for the supervisors, who need to complete their work on the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget no later than April 24. The current schedule includes a public hearing on the proposed tax rate on April 8 and the final vote on the budget on April 15. In theory, the hearing could be delayed a couple of weeks with the final vote held as late as April 24.

County Attorney Fred Payne warned that there could be “major convulsions” if the supervisors delayed the vote until late April. Treasurer Linda H. Lenherr will need the approved tax rate very early in May to issue bills for the June 5 tax date. “We need to make a maximum effort to get it done as fast as we can.”

Supervisor O’Brien pointed out that, with the number of infected Americans climbing by the day, “any delay is very likely to exponentially create problems for us down the road.”

In the end, they decided to advertise the public meeting for April 8. The proposed FY21 budget will be $83,220,343, and the proposed tax rates as follows:

Real estate   $0.945 per $100;

Mobile homes  $0.945 per $100;

Personal Property  $4.35 per $100;

Personal Property – Business and Public Utilities $2.90 per $100;

Machinery and Tools $1.90 per $100.

Other business

While coronavirus was the main topic of the evening, there were some other items on the agenda.

Supervisors voted 5-0 to appropriate and additional $121,000 from the contingency fund for the purchase of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) for first responders. The units currently in use have exceeded end-of-life and need to be replaced.

They had previously allocated around $818,000 for the equipment. The most recent bid came in at around $938,000.

The county has applied for a grant to cover the cost of the equipment, but the consensus is that the purchase cannot be delayed any longer. The motion passed unanimously.

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