Crawford County Board of Commissioners holds virtual meeting to address COVID-19 precautions
Wed, 04/01/2020 - 9:22am caleb
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The first virtual meeting for the Crawford County Board of Commissioners was held last week as county officials practice social distancing to mitigate the spread of coronavirus in the area.
The county board on Thursday, March 26, held its regular monthly meeting utilizing Zoom, a computer application that allows public bodies and groups to conduct business through video and audio conferencing.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, through an executive order issued on March 10, amended the state’s Open Meetings Act to allow public bodies to conduct official business in a virtual setting. All votes have to be taken by a roll call of members on the board rather than consensus votes where they simple reply yes or no to the motions presented for a vote.
Most of the meeting was spent on precautionary measures county officials have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Crawford County Courthouse was closed to the general public on Tuesday, March 17. Only essential workers on behalf of some county departments and the courts have been requested to report for work to take care of essential maters.
The building will remain closed to the public until Gov. Whitmer says residents can go about their business without social distancing.
Crawford County Clerk/Register of Deeds Sandra Moore and Sarah Medler, the chief deputy clerk for the Crawford County Circuit Court, are maintaining their regular hours. The rest of the clerk’s staff remain at home to self-isolate.
“We’re just doing what we can because my girls are off,” Moore said “Sarah is here as essential to the court and I’m manning everything else.”
Chief Deputy Treasurer Heather Malone is working, while Crawford County Treasurer Kate M. Wagner is working from home.
Wagner said that her office is seeking an amended court order to notify people that foreclosure proceeding on their property will be extended to May 29 or 30 days after state’s emergency declaration is no longer in place. She said less than 80 parcels are slated for foreclosure.
In addition, Wagner said letters will be sent to property owners the second week of April to inform them that their 2019 taxes have not been paid. If the tax payments are not brought up to date or arrangements cannot be made to pay them, the property will be subject to foreclosure in 2021.
“I don’t know how much stress I want to put on people, but I also don’t want to delay letting people know that their 2019 taxes may not be paid,” Wagner said.
Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo and Lori Sheltrown, the payroll and human resources director, remain on the job.
Crawford County Sheriff Shawn M. Kraycs and Undersheriff Randy Herman are working from home. Compo said 10 certified police officers have been identified to work if the sheriff’s office is short staffed.
All non-Crawford County Jail inmates being held in the jail were sent back to the counties where they were originally charged and sentenced. Jail administration also planned to petition the courts to release inmates that were close to their release date to decrease the population in the jail.
Law enforcement officers and corrections staff are taking the temperatures of people being taken into the jail.
The Central Dispatch has been locked down to prevent law enforcement officers and EMTs from entering the building.
“Unless there is come critical need that they have to be present in dispatch, they’re to do all of their work by radio and telephone,” Compo said.
John Steele, the veterans service officer for Crawford County, is in his office processing claims for veterans through fax and email since veterans are a vulnerable population in the county.
Paul Olmstead, the building and safety director for Crawford County, is working to make sure critical projects important to the local economy keep moving forward.
Brad Robinson, the building and maintenance director for the county, is keeping busy doing work on some county buildings as well as some upgrades that would be slowed when all employees are in the buildings.
“If something goes down in the jail or dispatch or wherever, he has to be there to maintain those buildings,” Compo said.
Kari Sieniarecki, the animal control officer for Crawford County, remains on duty so law enforcement officers don’t have to deal with animal related complaints and can focus on emergencies and other calls.
Staff reporting to work are being given one extra vacation day for every week they work. Compo stopped short of recommending extra incentives for employees staying at home to emphasize many in the community who are not working due to the pandemic.
The board directed Compo to send out layoff notices to employees if safety measures ordered go beyond the executive order time frames.
“I don’t want to put our employees in hardships, but on the other hand we have other people in the community that aren’t receiving anything,” Compo said.
Compo said there would be a huge hit to the county’s budget since records are not being recorded and law enforcement are not issuing tickets as they are not having direct contact with people and large groups.
Compo added that those losses will be hard to quantify.
“We’re going to end up when we get out of this with a hole in the budget,” he said. “I just don’t know how big it will be.”
Phil Lewis, the vice chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, said every budget needs to be looked at to determine which activities are or are not taking place due to COVID-19.
“I think as terrible as it sounds, we need to look at every budget item we have and see where we can cut things that are truly not being done in the day and age we’re in right now and see if we can cut some costs because we’re going to need it,” Lewis said.
Compo said he would like the opportunity to apply for Federal Emergency Management Administration funds for the county, but suspects most of those funds will go to the state and larger counties in southeast Michigan.
“If I have a chance, I want to be able to apply for some and I’ll do the best that I can,” Compo said.
Compo, Shelly Pinkelmen, the chairwoman of the Crawford County Board of Commissions, and Crawford County Emergency Management Director Doug Pratt continue to maintain in contact as federal and state mandates are handed down.
Pinkelman is also serving on a task for the Michigan Association, which represents all 83 counties in the state, to deal with coronavirus issues.