POLK COUNTY — City halls, school district offices and county departments are closing to the public in response to calls from Gov. Kate Brown to forgo all but essential activity.
On Monday, Brown ordered people to stay at home as much possible to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Even before that announcement, the city of Dallas and Dallas School District closed city hall and the district office to the public.
The city of Dallas closed City Hall on Thursday, and Monday was the last day of full operations at the Dallas School District and at Polk County departments.
Dallas said departments are staffed, but only interacting with the public via phone, email and by appointment.
Monmouth and Independence announced last week that they would limit public access to city facilities, and conduct most business by phone or email. City Hall in Falls City is open, but all interaction with the public will be done through the customer window in the foyer to reduce contact with public.
Central School District office is open, but has limited staffing on hand.
Dallas interim superintendent Andy Bellando said Monday was the last day the district office was fully staffed and open to the public.
“In addition to the schools, the district office is now closed. Community members can surely email or call us and leave a voice mail, and we will get back to them if there’s any special requests or needs,” he said. “Today is the last day that you will see the district office have this many people. I’ve directed all employees to complete their employment tasks from home as much as possible. There will still be a need to have one or maybe two people in the district office to support deliveries or maybe some other daily operational tasks.”
The exception to the that is food service employees — the state has mandated that school continue to offer meals during the shutdown — and maintenance crews that will monitor the function of district buildings.
Polk County announced Monday afternoon that it would be closing its buildings at 850 Main St. and 182 SW Academy St., in Dallas. Departments would interact with the public by phone, email and by appointment only. The Polk County Board of Commissioners approved the closure on Monday.
“The county is very committed to reducing the spread of the coronavirus and needs everyone’s cooperation immediately to reduce the spread of the virus,” read a press release announcing the closure.
Polk County, the city of Independence and the city of Monmouth have declared emergencies in response to COVID-19.
“This declaration helps to streamline responsibilities and allows for more flexible and timely responses from the city,” said Independence Mayor John McArdle in a March 14 statement.
Mayor Cec Koontz signed Monmouth’s declaration on March 17.
“The emergency declaration will allow the city of Monmouth to better serve people in our city in a more responsive and timely manner in order to reduce any number of losses our community, residents and businesses may experience from the spread of the novel infectious coronavirus during the coming weeks,” she said. “We understand this is a difficult and uncertain time for our community. However, I am confident that the city and its leadership will navigate the complexities of this situation successfully and that our residents will be cared for in the best possible manner.”
The Polk County Board of Commissioners also on March 17 declared a state of emergency within Polk County.
As of Monday, Falls City and Dallas have not declared emergencies.
Falls City has one on standby, said city manager Mac Corthell. He said the city doesn’t have an emergency ordinance, meaning that powers granted to city administration in an emergency declaration would have to be authorized individually by the city council.
“Ultimately, this leaves ‘access to funds’ as the reason to declare an emergency and that requires a specific need,” Corthell said. “Falls City currently has no specific needs related to the emergency because there are no cases here and no city expenditures occurring due to the emergency. The city is prepared to declare an emergency at a moment’s notice if needed.”
Dallas city manager Brian Latta said the city will benefit from resources available through declarations at the national, state and county level.
“The City Council has not discussed this, nor is there an immediate legal benefit to Dallas for doing so,” Latta said regarding declaring an emergency. “Our ordinances allow emergency public contracting and purchasing provisions without declaring a local emergency.”