BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Wearing a mask and gloves, Allan Baer attempts to answer the phone, put on his reading classes and drink coffee.
Baer, the deputy chief of the Whitehouse Police Department, stars in the first of a series of public service videos posted on the department’s Facebook page.
“We understand the seriousness of the current COVID-19 situation. These videos are created to bring attention to good safety practices and to hopefully make you smile,” explains Chief Mark McDonough at the end of each message.
The collaborative effort among the officers to create the educational videos is just one way that area municipalities are adapting and communicating during these unprecedented times.
Essential employees from police, fire and public works departments are staggering shifts to avoid proximity, cross training on jobs and doing lots of extra cleaning.
Meetings will now be held via telephone or online streaming platforms, with council members and trustees dialing in from their own homes.
“We’re doing everything we can to be responsible and stay home,” Waterville Mayor Tim Pedro said. “We’re going to get through this, it’s just a question of when.”
Administrators and staff are working at home. Public works employees are putting up caution tape around playgrounds and ball diamonds. Tax collections have been bumped to July 15, and previously budgeted improvements are being considered for postponement.
“We’re dealing with something we’ve never had to deal with before,” said White-house Mayor Don Atkinson. “Yet we still have to answer calls and provide services.”
On a daily basis, local leaders participate in conference calls with the county’s emergency response team, Pedro said. Information from the county, state and federal government guides municipalities on how to keep residents and employees safe.
Waterville is utilizing Cable Channel 5 as well as the Waterville Economic Development Corporation, the Waterville Chamber of Commerce and websites to share information on safety as well as resources for residents and businesses.
In Monclova Township, employees are undergoing health questionnaires daily – even those working from home, said administrator Harold Grim.
Finding personal protective equipment has been a challenge for many first responders, but it is a top priority and the village has prepared as well as possible, said Whitehouse administrator Jordan Daugherty.
Public works employees are only working on critical jobs, such as cemetery burials, downed trees, mowing and infrastructure emergencies.
On Monday, Monclova Township employee Todd Osborn was putting caution tape up around the ball diamonds – an addition to the already cordoned-off playgrounds in the township parks. Team sports are prohibited, according to the governor. While Grim said he’s heard complaints about organized teams getting together at the parks, the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office has said it will only give offenders a verbal reminder about social distancing for now, he said.
To maintain the safety of public officials, all area buildings are closed, but public meetings are being held via teleconference or other means.
Ohio House Bill 197 authorizes public bodies to meet by electronic means provided the public has access. All actions have the same effect as in-person meetings.
Information on phoning in or watching a meeting can be found on each municipality’s website, posted on the agenda.
John Borell Sr., assistant Lucas County prosecuting attorney, represents area townships, some of which are using Zoom. A few other smaller townships are meeting in person but having the public attend remotely. Others are still working through plans, especially those without the technology in place, he said.
One of the topics that is sure to be discussed in upcoming meetings will be the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on income tax revenue.
With the local income tax filing deadlines extended to July 15 and so many residents unemployed or underemployed, leaders expect to see a reduction in revenue.
During its Monday, April 13 meeting, Waterville City Council will look at large expenditures planned for this year, including $500,000 for radio-read water meters and $400,000 for paving.
Council will be reviewing the entire operating and capital budgets over the next several weeks and collectively decide on best practices going forward, Pedro said.
“The decrease in the income tax collections will hit us down the road,” Atkinson said. “We’ve shut down spending on nonessentials. We need to prepare as if it (tax revenue losses) will be very significant. We’re prepared for difficulties and it will affect the future budget.”
Already, work on the village’s parks, streetscaping and alley resurfacing has been postponed.
For municipalities that were already strained, Atkinson wonders how some of them might survive.
“I’ve not seen any (federal or state) relief for political subdivisions that are hit,” he said.
As municipalities weather this crisis, Waterville administrator Jon Gochenour said it’s made him aware how diversifying the tax base should be a goal in the coming years. Seventy percent of the city’s revenue comes from income tax and the rest is a mix of property tax, state fees and miscellaneous revenue. Water and sewer revenue funds are self-sustaining.
Most Ohio municipalities base their revenue on income and/or property tax.
“That’s an overreliance on income tax. The state used to provide the local governments with revenue, and they’ve cut that back and cut that back more,” Gochenour said.
Recognizing that area businesses are struggling, leaders are encouraging residents to purchase gift cards and patronize restaurants.
“We have reached out to area restaurants, in case they’re offering carryout or drive-thru service, to let them know that we’re not enforcing our sign code if they want to put out an extra sign,” Grim said. “They need help.”
Waterville is working with the chamber and the Waterville Economic Dev-elopment Corporation to get all the links and direct people toward different programs for small businesses.
Atkinson urges any residents in need to call the village, so they can also be connected to helpful resources.