After a lengthy discussion, Woodward County Commissioners decided to open the courthouse to the public on Tuesday, May 19, differing to each county office’s protocol according to their office reopening plan.
Approving an amendment to the COVID-19 security and protective measures and continuity operational plan for the courthouse was no easy decision as commissioners discussed the pros and cons with county officers.
“Still seeing a case spread in Texas County. That's been the major spread area. They're up to just under 700 cases,” Emergency Management Director Matt Lehenbauer said. “They still have a very very low fatality rate comparatively to our averages worldwide."
Texas County has reported four deaths and a little over 300 recoveries, according to the state health department.
District Attorney Christopher M. Boring advised caution, stating he is still a little spooked with the panhandle numbers but suggested the board use their best judgment.
“The second floor is going to be the busiest and I really think that's where we're going to have a problem,” District 3 Commissioner Vernie Matt said. “I don't think we're at our peak yet. And with this deal at Texas County and some of them coming in here, it scares me.”
According to District 1 Commissioner Troy White, since retail stores, restaurants and other businesses around town aren’t taking temperatures, he doesn’t see much value in keeping the courthouse closed.
“I think it all boils down to personal responsibility,” White said. “I would be in favor of opening the courthouse at this time. Each office has developed protocols to minimize interaction and minimize population in their individual offices, etc.”
White went on to say he didn’t think hiring temporary help to check temperatures before people come into the courthouse was needed since none of the retail outlets in town are doing it.
“I think it'd be a waste of money,” White shared. “I mean this virus is gonna resurge this fall, likely. I mean it's just gonna be something that we're gonna have to live with, probably from now on.”
Court Clerk Tammy Roberts is expecting a swarm of people coming to the courthouse for the backed up dockets.
“We'll do the best we can. I don’t think anybody realizes is how many people that we actually have (for) a docket,” Roberts said. “We'll just sort them as we go. That's what we're gonna have to do.”
Sheriff Kevin Mitchell said the jail will stay closed a while longer. From a money standpoint, he said the jail cannot afford a case of COVID-19 and he isn’t willing to take a chance. He suggested court hearings for inmates be heard at different times than when the public is in the courthouse.
“I realize my workers come and go, but we have a screening and temperature check every day, and if they had over 99 temperature they don’t come to work,” Mitchell said. “I'm just real leery about bringing inmates into the courthouse.”
In the next agenda item, Mitchell discussed a financial shortfall for the jail with commissioners. Sales tax revenue has fallen around 30 percent with the COVID-19 shutdown and drop in oil prices.
“I'm about $35,000 short. I can't pay any more details at this point,” Mitchell said. “I think we would have been really darn close and I gave it a good try.”
According to White, the county's general fund is also running short and the courthouse is operating out of the use tax fund at this point. He proposed they revisit the jail’s needs each week, transferring funds only as needed.
“If the highway districts, wanted to supplement the county budget or the jail budget, we could,” White suggested. “Now you're in violation of statute, but the auditors know this and it's happening all over the state. Their stance is counties have to do what they have to do to pay their bills and pay their people. That is an option, just not a very good one.”
Right-of-Way (ROW) encroachment and road easement agreements were approved. An unimproved section ROW in Section 8 and 17 T24N R20W, owned by Jeffery L. Howard, in which REW Renewables Americas LLC has a wind tower in the middle of the unused county easement. Boiling Springs Wind Farm LLC also has ROW encroachment agreements for several turbines in that township and range area which were approved as well. This will allow the county to go around the turbines, if needed.
Changes in previously adopted permits for modifications of entrances to windmill sites which were approved on Oct. 21, 2019 with E-On, now RWE. According to Matt, these entrances are being moved to other locations for public safety reasons.
Commissioners approved an interlocal governmental agreement with the City of Woodward for the E-911 communications center to handle all county 911 calls for the fiscal year from July 1, 2020 through June 20, 2021.
The board approved another interlocal agreement with Woodward Public Schools for using county-owned machinery and equipment needed to make improvements on school property within the county.
Commissioners approved the Nationwide Retirement Solutions, which has a coronavirus related distribution available to participants who otherwise may not be eligible but have been impacted by the virus. This will allow employees participating in the program to borrow or withdrawal from their retirement. That money will be subject to applicable penalties, income tax or interest, according to White.
Two certificates of compliance for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority were acknowledged. One is for Inhale USA Farm in District 3 Section 4 T24NR22W which is north of Fort Supply near the Woodward County and Harper County line. The other is for Royalty Strainz, LLC in District 1 Section 30 T23N R19W on 30.38 acres which is about five miles west of Woodward.
Allocation of Alcoholic Beverage tax was approved at $21,074.13 with certified date of May 13, 2020.
A local government approval for Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Grant for the Northwest Oklahoma Domestic Crisis Services was also approved.
Paul Fockler with the Domestic Crisis Center said he imagines this grant will be around $60,000 per shelter. He is applying for another grant as well, hoping it will be in excess of $100,000.
“We think that just as much due to the coronavirus, the economy is going to be hurting people in Northwest Oklahoma a lot,” Fockler said. “It's not going to be a one time catch me up on my rent or my utility assistance. They're gonna need long term assistance to really get back and going and get employed again.”
A resolution for disposing of equipment was approved for a laptop computer to be junked from the assessor's office.
Lehenbauer said the next problem he is concerned the county will have to tackle is beef shortages. He has received reports that local vendors are paying $6 per pound for beef.