The novel coronavirus pandemic has required local governments to operate differently, from holding virtual meetings, limiting public buildings to non-appointment access and incorporating new health guidelines.
Some of those procedures are likely to be part of their new normal.
“We can’t get all the way back to normal, but we’re trying to still maintain our basic programs for people so they know the city’s still doing things and still trying to recognize the efforts,” said Fairfield City Manager Mark Wendling.
The city of Fairfield is examining how it can offer parks programming, which all are canceled — with the exception of a modified farmers market.
Liberty and Fairfield townships have incorporated new online procedures as their buildings had limited public access.
“We have offered electronic submittals for zoning permits that may continue as an option going forward,” said Liberty Twp. spokesperson Caroline McKinney.
Fairfield Twp. did the same thing, said township Administrator Julie Vonderhaar. But the township also started to livestream trustee meetings via Facebook Live, which Vonderhaar believes that could be permanent as another layer of transparency.
“(The pandemic) has just proven how much flexibility technology has allowed in today’s world, and I think that will be a permanent part of how we do business moving forward,” she said.
The state quickly instituted drastic measures to slow the spread, including restrictions that required businesses to shutter or have employees work from home based on recommendations from the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Local government budgets were also reined in as projected incoming revenues are expected to decline. Hamilton and Fairfield put in place hiring freezes to help with their budgets.
“Our hiring freeze remains in effect, except for public safety and public health (positions),” said Hamilton city spokesman Brandon Saurber.
Wendling said in addition to first responders, the city will be hiring a new public works director. But he said for the rank-and-file positions, “we’re maintaining the freeze for the foreseeable future.”
Parks programming also varies from community to community, but playgrounds have been off-limits amid the crisis.
West Chester Twp. doesn’t have many parks programs, but spokeswoman Barb Wilson said the township is postponing the start of programs and offering their Nature Basket program virtually. The township is now regulating its next Touch-A-Truck program to a virtual event within the next few weeks.
Wilson says the township has canceled the Random Acts of Simple Kindness Affecting Local Seniors, or RASKALS, program, but officials hope to match volunteers with seniors needing help with yard work.
The Keehner Park and Takeover concert series both have a delayed start, but Wilson said, “We hope to get started in July and are planning to extend the series into September. Of course, West Chester will continue to monitor the situation and will make any updates as needed.”
The weekly farmers market is planned for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday on The Square @ Union Centre. Guests will be asked to practice social distancing and wear masks.
Fairfield is continually evaluating its parks programming because it’s “just very complicated” as officials are trying to incorporate COVID-19 safety guidelines while balancing the city’s ability to provide the services, said Wendling. At this time, the city does not have a timeline to resume parks programming, and while the pool is shut down at this time for 2020, Wendling called it a “tentative decision.”
“It’s something that we’re looking at,” he said. “The lifeguard training program, they’re not training guards. We obviously can’t open the pool if we don’t have trained guards.”
Governments have had some employees work from home while some were required to work in their office, though many plan to discontinue work-for-home plans soon, or already have done so.
No date has been set for Hamilton to reopen its buildings back up to public traffic, Saurber said, but Wendling said Fairfield is expecting to have its public buildings reopened to the public by the end of the month.
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