Fiscal Court Covid-19

Carter County Judge Executive Mike Malone discusses his office's declaration of a local state of emergency during a special session of fiscal court Saturday afternoon. The declaration was in response to the covid-19 virus, and helping delay the spread of the disease.

County offices in Carter County will be closed to the general public for the next two weeks, with a few exceptions, as the county tries to follow the Center for Disease Control's recommendations to help “flatten the curve” of coronavirus spread.

Flattening the curve refers to spreading the inevitable march of the disease out over a longer period, so that fewer people are sick at a time, rather than overwhelming hospitals and emergency response by taking no action, which can result in a higher number of infections over a shorter period of time. The term comes from mapping the results of taking preventative action, and taking no action, along a graphed curve. When no action is taken, a significant spike in cases occurs over a shorter period.

Carter County Judge Executive Mike Malone started the emergency meeting by apologizing for calling a meeting on a Saturday afternoon, but he said he would “rather err on the side of caution” – and get out ahead of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – than take no action and have the virus catch the community unprepared.

Malone referenced the 1918 flu epidemic, which killed many locally and across the nation. He noted that cities that took precautions experienced a less severe death toll than cities that did nothing to discourage gatherings that spread the flu.

This, he said, is why his office had taken the action of drafting a declaration of local state of emergency and was asking fiscal court to approve it. While some might term this an overreaction, Malone said – especially in hindsight if the precautions work to slow the spread – he would rather take action and risk ridicule than take no action and have older and immune compromised citizens bear the brunt of that inaction.

The declaration, which the magistrates unanimously approved, noted that both the state of Kentucky and the federal government have declared states of emergency. The declaration sets limits on arrests and the serving of warrants that may result in arrests and lodging in the detention center, as well as setting requirements for the detention center to alert the judge executive to any inmates exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

The declaration also “strongly urged” civic organizations hosting events and gatherings where more than 100 people are expected to attend to postpone those events until after April 1. Likewise churches, weddings and funerals are urged to postpone whenever possible and to use caution in all cases.

Caution includes the precautions being encouraged among all citizens of Carter County – the practice of good hygiene and hand washing, avoiding crowds and close contact with others, and refraining from handshakes, hugs and other physical contact.

The biggest impact on most folks, though, will be the closure of county offices until at least April 1. All county employees are expected to report for work and will be answering telephone calls and electronic communications. The courthouse itself, however, will not be open.

Because the largest impact is expected to be on those who need to pay taxes or renew licenses or tags at the county clerk's office, the court has directed law enforcement not to charge anyone whose tags expired between Friday, March 13, and April 1. In the meantime the clerk will be able to take credit or debit card payments over the telephone and can leave tags in a drop-box or deliver them via mail.

The court settled on a reopen date of April 1, a little over two weeks, after discussions with representatives of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) during a CDC call-in conference to address concerns of local governments and offer recommendations to lessen the impact of the virus in their communities.

Emergency Management Director Jeremy Rodgers explained to magistrates that the court could extend that two-week period if they decided it was necessary.

In addition to passing the declaration, the court moved to adopt a resolution to compensate employees of the clerk's office, as they will be unable to collect the revenue that normally funds the department during the two-week closure. Once the office was caught up again on tax and tag payments, the court said, they could repay the county for the coverage. In a related resolution the court moved to forgive any late penalties on taxes that might have otherwise accrued during the closure period, to the extent allowed by state law.

In addition to the closure of the courthouse to the public by the fiscal court, each of the departments issued their own statements about the closure.

The clerk's office noted they will be available by telephone, and that tags can be renewed over the telephone with a credit or debit card, or online at drive.ky.gov. Transfers, the release said, can be mailed in after calling the office by telephone for pricing and details. The same went for land recordings, though some of those actions can also be performed online by going to KYlandrecords.com. The office will also still be accepting absentee ballot requests by telephone, with ballots mailed out daily. The clerk's office telephone number is 474-5188.

The County Attorney's Office and the Carter County Child Support office will be closed to the public during the next two weeks as well. The attorney's office will continue to answer telephone calls at 474-5081, with child support staff answering at 474-8989. Child support payments can also be made online at csws.chfs.ky.gov/csws, or by calling 800-248-1163. Checks may also be mailed to Child Support Enforcement, P.O. Box 14059, Lexington, KY 40512.

The Property Valuation Administrator also announced they would be closed to the public, but available by telephone at 474-5663 and fax at 474-2473. They will also continue to answer tax questions by telephone, along with correcting districts on automobiles, and accepting 2020 tax returns for tangible personal property tax by mail. For basic real property questions, the public can also visit carterpva.com and click on “tax roll” on the left-hand column.

The sheriff's office will remain open, “but with limited services,” during the two-week period. They ask anyone who can wait on a vehicle inspection to please do so. While most doors into the courthouse will be locked during the two weeks period, the door to the sheriff's office at the back of the building will remain unlocked. The sheriff's office can be reached by telephone at 474-5616. Call 911 in an emergency.

Finally, the office of the judge-executive and fiscal court notice explained their offices would be closed to the public, “in the interest of safety to the public and our employees.” The office staff can still be reached by telephone at 474-3837 or 474-5366, and by email at cartercountyky@gmail.com. The notice from the judge executive's office echoed the sentiments expressed in the public meeting, noting that the court would “work with other county officials to eliminate monetary penalties that may be incurred on licenses or property tax late fees during this period.”

All offices will be closed until “at least April 1,” according to the judge executive's office.

The declaration of emergency will remain in place until April 10, “unless extended by additional Emergency Declarations.”

Contact the writer at jwells@journal-times.com.

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