ELLINWOOD — As its neighboring communities proceed with pandemic related lock-downs, Ellinwood City Council members made the decision to keep its parks and playground open, at least until there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in Barton County.
The Council also approved an ordinance allowing the city to pay bills during any month the city council is unable to meet due to the pandemic shut-down until Dec. 31, 2020. This action was presented as a pro-active measure as currently appropriations, or bills in lay mans’ terms, can’t be paid until the council approves them, which requires them to meet in an open meeting.
City Manager Chris Komarek addressed how the council will meet moving forward. For now, the city will continue to meet in person, and Komarek has been in communication with USD 355 Ellinwood Superintendent Ben Jacobs concerning use of the Ellinwood School and Community Library for a meeting space. This will allow for the social distancing prescribed by Governor Laura Kelly’s executive order concerning group gatherings. Information will be made public in the city’s official newspaper, its website, and posted on the door of the city offices.
“We will probably wait a few minutes past 7 p.m. to give people who went to the wrong location to get there in time for the meeting,” Komarek said.
Currently, the city is observing a “Watch situation,” and the council determined it will not move into a “Warning situation” until there is a case of the novel coronavirus confirmed in the county. Some council members argued to delay escalation until the city is notified of a confirmed case in the city. Council member Jacque Isern, however, pointed out there are a number of residents who work in neighboring cities, so the council agreed on the county option.
Komarek presented a number of considerations the Kansas League of Municipalities suggested for cities determining how to respond to the crisis. Discussion centered around how to address public access to city spaces, travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and how staff will be paid for pandemic related absences during a Watch as well as a Warning situation.
Under the current Watch, the City of Ellinwood lobby and offices are closed to the public, except for the council chamber during an open meeting. The drive-thru window is available for utility payments, and staff can be reached by phone or electronically. Other city departments are not locked down, and will remain open. Council members agreed because the number of workers in each department fall under the prescribed limit of 10 people in a space, as well as staff using common sense to observe social distancing, this was entirely appropriate.
Komarek attended meetings at the county level and at the City of Great Bend last week, and has been in contact with Hoisington City Manager Jonathan Mitchell. He noted that while those communities have amenities like recreation and activity centers and multiple outdoor spaces to consider, the same is not the case for Ellinwood. He shared actions taken to close access to parks and playgrounds in those communities. Council members came to the conclusion that there would be no benefit to the community at this time to close the playground at Ellinwood City Park, or access to Wolf Pond. They will stay open during the Watch.
The Municipal court docket for March was delayed until April. It is likely, if the crises continues, that docket will be delayed until May. All new entries are being scheduled for May at this time, according to Ellinwood City Attorney Jane Isern.
Should the city move to a Warning situation, access to the playground will be cut-off, but the park will be open. The walking track at the park, however, falls under the responsibility of the school district, Komarek said.
Komarek asked if the council wanted to discuss the opening of the pool for the 2020 season. Following suit with the City of Hoisington, the council decided to delay discussion until the April 14 meeting. Concerns over the availability of lifeguards that other cities have referred to were determined not to be an issue for Ellinwood. Komarek stated the pool manager and a number of lifeguards have current registration, and some who were up for renewal received training earlier in the month before classes for lifeguard certification were cancelled due to the crisis.
“If the pool can open, we should be good to go,” he said.
Should employees need to take time off to care for children home from school or daycare due to the COVID-19 shut down, they will be paid through the Family First Response fund for up to 80 hours first. If the situation continues, they can utilize accumulated sick and vacation time next. The Ellinwood City Council approved allowing employees to receive up to five days or 40 hours of negative sick leave if it is required. This, Komarek explained, could occur if an employee needs to take care of a family member, and then later is quarantined for illness and recovery, for instance.
Employees are covered under the Emergency Relief Act portion of the Family Medical Leave Act, City Attorney Isern said. It allows individuals to be off for 12 weeks without losing their job. The first two weeks of leave would be unpaid, but employees can use up sick or vacation leave during his period. Then, they are eligible to receive 2/3 of their salary if the reason they are unable to come to work is because they are caring for children because daycare and school are closed during the COVID-19 shutdown. They are not eligible for the benefit if they are home recovering from the virus.