The Hardin County Commission held its regular monthly meeting Monday, but in an effort to comply with social distancing recommendations related to coronavirus, it was not business as usual.
The standard horseshoe table arrangement with commissioners and staff sitting elbow-to-elbow was instead spread out to provide three feet of space between people. Eighteen of the 20 commissioners were present with Commissioners Paul Riddle and Mike Jerrolds absent.
Davis explained that the decision to go ahead with the meeting, after President Donald Trump on Monday called for people to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, was a matter of timing.
“At our last (planning) meeting Thursday, the recommendation was a maximum of 50 for group size. The recommendation to go to 10 was given late this afternoon and I did not have time to advertise or contact everybody,” he said. “This could be our last meeting with a group of this size until this passes.”
Davis said he is coordinating with 22 mayors in West Tennessee and advisers from the state to ensure they can provide a safe environment for the county while still providing essential services.
David Alexander, director at Hardin County Emergency Communications, said E-911 dispatchers are screening callers using an infectious disease protocol questionnaire and providing information to law enforcement and EMS so they can be prepared. “It’s our job to generate whether there’s a red flag or not and the responders will then follow the protocols of their agency.”
Fire Chief Melvin Martin reported that he is working with his leadership team to prepare recommendations for responders. “We don’t change much because we are out here to serve the community, but we’re going to take care of our people as well as we can.”
Hardin Medical Center has implemented a variety of precautions across its many services, said CEO Nick Lewis. “We have adhered to federal guidelines and gone a little further,” he said. Employees are getting wellness checks before and during shifts in the hospital, nursing home and the cancer treatment center. He said the hospital is already experiencing rationing of supplies as resources are diverted to areas they are most needed.
DeLaney Timberman, executive director of the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce, said, “For the business sector, things are changing quickly and events are canceling left and right.” She said the chamber is working to ensure businesses that may be economically impacted by the crisis have information about potential mitigations such as modifications to the payroll tax and emergency Small Business Administration loans. She added that the chamber has been the first point of contact for people to find out which businesses have remained open and which have closed.
Hardin County Schools Director Michael Davis reported that schools will be until April 6 following a request Monday by Gov. Bill Lee that all schools across the state close.
Davis said preparations were made to ensure that Hardin County children continue to receive meals throughout the closure. The district will provide a grab-and-go lunch for every child age 18 or younger in the county at 11 a.m. each weekday at 11 locations in the county and city. A list of locations is posted on the The Courier’s website at https://bit.ly/2IUAadS.
Meals are available whether the child is attending the public schools or not. The school district will be reimbursed for the cost of lunches for school days missed and the school board will cover the cost of lunches during the portion of the closure that covers spring break.
School board member Ron Ashe said students will be expected to continue lessons during the closure. Teachers “gave packets to the students today and, as this goes further, we will try to get more in place,” he said. Davis previously raised a concern that trying to offer online school may be difficult due to the lack of reliable internet access in the area.
The commission approved a number of capital improvement projects for Hardin County Schools. The projects include:
•Upgrade high school auditorium with lighting, audio, video, curtain and carpet improvements at an estimated cost up to $145,000.
•Construct a new bathroom and concession building at the high school near the tennis courts at an estimated cost of up to $125,000.
•Upgrade the telephone system at all schools and the district office, moving from a landline system to a cloud-based system, at a cost of up to $40,000.
•Build a new parking lot by the high school gymnasium adding 75-80 parking spots at a cost of up to $85,000.
•Add new slide-out bleachers to the mezzanine of middle school multi-purpose room at a cost of up to $40,000.
•Replace the bleachers at the high school at a cost of up to $85,000.
Davis said all projects would be paid for in this fiscal year using existing funds from the 1/4-cent sales tax.
In addition, commissioners approved a budget amendment to include a $1,400 grant from the Animal Friendly specialty license plate fund that will enable Hardin County Animal Services to provide spay and neuter services for cats. The county voucher program currently only provides funding for dog spay and neuter activities.
The commission also approved a resolution urging the Tennessee General Assembly to add two additional seats to the Hardin County General Hospital Board of Commissioners, increasing membership from six to eight. In making the proposal, Hardin Medical Center CEO Nick Lewis said expanding the board would increase the different skills on the board and improve institutional knowledge.
Also on the agenda was a request by the Hardin County Agricultural Fair Board for funds to move the fence along the south side of the fairgrounds out 45 feet to add 1.5 acres to the fairgrounds.
“We have one of the best fairs in this area, but we have outgrown our facility,” fair board member Keith Franks said during a presentation at last Thursday’s commission planning meeting. He explained that moving the fence will add more room for fair rides and the carnival.
Franks said the fair board is asking the county to pay the estimated $15,000 to $20,000 to the relocate the fence and gates while the fair board would pay to relocate power poles and electrical and water lines as needed. The county owns the land and owns any improvements made to the property.
The commission deferred the vote until the county budget committee confers on the proposal.