It’s back to business, with some limitations put in place and hours modified
After closing in mid-March because of COVID-19, Gillespie County government will officially open back up on Monday, June 1.
County Commissioners approved the new opening procedures Friday, May 22 at a special meeting due to the Memorial Day holiday falling on the regular meeting date.
Commissioners, with the help of a committee, agreed to reopen county facilities on June 1, the same day the Fredericksburg City Council opens city offices.
“It is going to be different for everyone and like everything right now, it is going to take some getting used to and we are going to have to get used to having people in our facilities again,” Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher said.
Committee members included: Donnie Schuch, Pct. 4 commissioner; Buddy Mills, sheriff; Larry Crump, auditor; Dana Smith, Human Resources director; Kristel Rheinhardt, Human Resources assistant; John Keller, information technology; John Sandstedt, facilities maintenance; Les Metzler, Director of Dispatch; and Stroeher.
“At first, we talked about putting restrictions on and how to open and trying to put limitations on things. But the more we talked about it, we saw that it is going to be difficult to impose those restrictions,” Stroeher said. “The best thing we can do is strongly encourage the public and employees in public areas to do certain things but it goes back to the precautions set by the CDC. People have to take personal responsibility for these things.”
Uniform procedures and health protocols will be posted throughout county facilities. Custodial staff will also take extra precautions and clean highly touched surfaces as best as they can.
Main changes include modifying the hours that county facilities are open. Commissioners agreed to change hours from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. to 9 a.m.-4 p.m. to allow employees to set up and get things ready for the day as well as take extra time to sanitize highly touched surfaces.
Rope lines would also be used to form more order lines in and out of offices. Areas of the greatest concern includes the tax assessor’s office and the county clerk’s office. Tape would also be placed on the floors to mark six-feet social distance.
Restrooms located in the courthouse basement, restrooms on the west end and in the break room will be designated as employee only.
At the first meeting in May, commissioners expressed concerns over which doors would be open and how to manage the number of people in the courthouse. After lengthy discussion, it was decided that all doors in the building would be open.
The meeting room at Gillespie County AgriLife building will be closed to the public. Operations at Annex 1 will return to normal and Annex 2 and the Veterans Service Office are still encouraging appointments.
In-person court hearings in the courthouse will be stricter but Stroeher expects those guidelines to be set by the Texas Supreme Court.
“Thank you to those department heads and elected officials for your responses. That helped a lot and everyone got copy to read through. It’s going to be work in progress and who knows what happens once we open doors,” Schuch said. “The first few days are going to be a rat race.”
“I want to thank this group for coming up with feasible operations for moving forward. These have been good recommendations and we just have to try to keep everyone safe,” Commissioner Charles Olfers said.
“This virus is going to do what it wants to do, and we need to ensure that we do our part and keep safe as we can,” City of Fredericksburg Infectious Disease Control Officer Catherine Kuhlmann said. “We need to show people we aren’t fearful, but we want to make sure we are being proactive safe as possible being smart.”
Pioneer Memorial Library will operate under the same conditions as other county facilities. The library will be open from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and will no longer be open on Saturdays or open late on Wednesdays.
The only door open will be the east door, which faces the County Courthouse.
Only 10 patrons will be allowed in the facility at a time and patrons will be limited to 30 minutes inside.
Computers and card catalog access will not be available.
WiFi is still available outside the facility under the name “Library Public.”
When returning items, patrons are asked to use the book drop at the south door.
Donations and the summer reading program have been suspended.
Because county facilities have been closed since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, the county is eligible to submit applications to the Texas Department of Emergency Management for reimbursement through the CARES Act.
The State of Texas was awarded around $11 billion in CARES Act funding to be used for local governments.
“Of the $11 billion, about $5 billion is dedicated to cities and counties and other government entities. Of the $5 billion, about $3.5 billion was direct funding to some of the larger cities and counties in the state like Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston,” Stroeher said. “The rest is being distributed to cities and counties that have populations of 500,000 or less.”
Allocations are based on $55 per person in that county. Gillespie County and the City of Fredericksburg would be eligible for about $850, 245 based on the estimated population of 26,988.
Funds received must be spent on eligible expenses related to the coronavirus. Funds eligible must be from March 1-Dec. 30. What is not spent must be returned at the end of the year.
The county is eligible to receive 20% of its funds immediately, or about $170,000.
“To date, we haven’t had the expenses add up to that that but we don’t know what the future will be like with people coming in. We have been very fortunate in Gillespie County,” Olfers said.
Stroeher said funds could be used for first responders that have gone above and beyond during this time.
“A number of them have been doing a lot related to coronavirus issues so anything that is over and above regular payroll, we can use funds for them,” Stroeher said.
Stroeher reminded departments that expenses related to coronavirus need to be tracked separately and given to the county auditor to be documented.
“That is extremely important,” Stroeher said. “We don’t want to have an avalanche of expenses that we weren’t able to document and then we have to send that money back.”
Commissioners OK’d the application to submit expenses.
County bridge work
Pct. 2 Commissioner Keith Kramer requested work be done at a low-water crossing on Usener Road.
Kramer said currently the bridge is unstable and large vehicles that travel over it, have felt the bridge shift. Allen Keller Company has agreed to do the repairs.
“When they came to look at it, they said a good rain could wash it out, so we need to approve this proposal to replace and repair the bridge,” Kramer said.
Estimated cost to fix the bridge is $79,235. Funds to fix the bridge are eligible for emergency repair under Local Government Code 262. The code states that discretionary exemptions can be made by the commissioner’s court if:
• An item that must be purchased in a case of public calamity if it is necessary to make the purchase promptly to relieve the necessity of the citizens or to preserve the property of the county;
• An item necessary to preserve or protect the public health or safety of the residents of the county;
• An item necessary because of unforeseen damage to public property.
“I think any of those three might fit in this case,” said Larry Crump, county auditor.
Monies to complete the project would not come out of the Precinct 2 budget, but rather make a budget amendment, as stated in Local Government Code 111.141, if the court makes an amendment because it is an emergency.
Crump stated that Kramer does not have resources to complete the project without making budget amendments authorized by the court. It would be considered an addition.
Making the change would mean Kramer would not be able to complete all budgeted paving projects if he took funds from the road materials budget.
In the meantime, signs will be put up to limit heavy truck traffic on the road, as many trucks use it to get from U.S. 290 West to Tivydale.
“This would help prevent further damage and Allen Keller said it could get to the project soon,” Kramer said.
The request was approved as per the Local Government Code.
Hand sanitizer donation
Gillespie County Sheriff Buddy Mills accepted a donation of hand sanitizer on behalf of the county.
Mills was contacted by Indorama Ventures, a chemical holding company based in Asia. The company produces polyethylene, polypropylene, fertilizers and medical gloves, according to its website.
The county received 500 gallons of the hand sanitizer, which Mills said will be distributed throughout county departments, including the court house, annexes and the jail.
Commissioners approved the donation.
• Approved an annual subscription used to help digitize voter registration records.
• Commissioners received a presentation from Mustard Designs, the company that is helping design the county’s new AgriLife and Facilities Maintenance buildings.
• Set a meeting for 9 a.m. Monday, June 8 at the Gillespie County Courthouse.