Belle aldermen declare a State of Emergency

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 3/25/20

Belle aldermen declared Thursday during a special meeting that the city is now in a State of Emergency due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Belle Mayor Josh Seaver said he sat in on a …

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Belle aldermen declare a State of Emergency

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Belle aldermen declared Thursday during a special meeting that the city is now in a State of Emergency due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Belle Mayor Josh Seaver said he sat in on a Maries County Commission meeting that morning, March 19, where they declared Maries County to be in a State of Emergency and recommended the cities within the county to do the same. He asked the board what they would like to adopt as far as the recommended actions, what to do about the water disconnects, and open rentable city buildings.

“I am asking what we want to do as far as the City Administration Building? Do we want to close the lobby?” Seaver asked the board. “Do we want to only do payments over the phone or through the drop slot?”

The city of Owensville has already closed the lobby at City Hall to the public, although operations continue within via phone and the payment dropbox.

“I kinda feel like we need to follow suit,” Seaver said.

City Clerk Frankie Hicks agreed with Seaver. Alderman Tony Gieck asked if they needed to follow suit with other utility companies.

“Do we fall under the same stipulations as Ameren UE and those that if people don’t make their water bill payments, the fees would be waived?” Gieck asked.

Emergency Management Official and Fire Chief Dwight Francis said that would be up to the board.

“If they don’t pay their bill this month and are due for a shut-off —,” Gieck began.

“ — They do not recommend disconnecting,” Hicks finished.

Gieck asked to see the budget for water, while Seaver asked the board to make a decision about keeping the City Administration Building open.

“Shutting it down, absolutely,” said Alderman Courtney Abel. “We live in a low-income community where hygiene is very poor.”

Alderman Ken Stanfield asked if Hicks would still be at the City Administration Building to take payments over the phone.

“We will still be conduction operations,” Seaver said. “We are trying to limit the number of people coming in who may be coughing and hacking all over the place.”

“I make a motion we utilize the dropbox, call in or mail payments,” Stanfield said, acknowledging that it should take effect immediately.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph asked about how long COVID-19 could survive on paper or metal. Francis said it could be suspended in the air for six hours before it settles and then can be reintroduced into the air once it is picked up.

“If I was Frankie, I would be wearing gloves,” Francis said. “I’d give you an N95 mask, but we don’t have ‘em yet.”

Stanfield asked if Lysol would kill the germs. Francis said 99 percent of it, but there is still that one percent. He said the masks that the president ordered from the national stockpiles are scheduled to arrive on March 24.

“What if a case is discovered today or tomorrow?” Abel asked. “Shouldn’t we figure that out now?”

Seaver stopped the board, and said they needed to figure out one thing at a time. The board voted to close the City Administration Building lobby with a 4-0 vote, allowing for water bills to be paid over the phone, mail or dropbox.

“How many confirmed cases are there in Maries, Osage, and Gasconade counties?” Stanfield asked.

Francis said Cole County is the nearest place with cases, but at the beginning of the week they had five and in less than five hours it jumped to 24 cases. Stanfield said it was because they could test them. Abel said they are waiting for tests in Osage County now.

“It’s going to get worse before it ever gets better,” Francis said, adding that it is worse than other viruses. “The reason that it is worse is that they didn’t have the test for it. They have their first confirmed case of a child in Kansas.”

Seaver said many other towns are not disconnecting the water, but they are not waiving late fees either. Struemph said most of those places, the residents will still have to pay, but the officials are waiving the bills/fees a month at a time.

“The thing of it is, if you were paying it this month, you should have it the next two months,” Struemph said.

Francis said the electric companies did it because so many people are getting laid off.

“They are trying to defer the money that would have went to the water bill for food, necessities and those things,” Francis said. “I think they are allowing it to be up to 90 days without penalty.”

He said this could be over in a month or they could be dealing with it in August. Treasurer Michelle Jones said she had read that morning that there were no new cases in China.

“They are getting over it,” Francis said.

Seaver asked again what they were going to do. Struemph said many people only have the means to pay cash.

“They can drop cash in the dropbox,” Hicks said. “A lot of people do.”

Struemph said they are supplying the means to pay it. The dropbox is locked and can be used 24 hours a day. The Post Office is also running mail as normal.

“Water is $9,029 to the good and sewer is $1,100,” Gieck said. “Water brings in $8,700 a month and sewer brings in $8,900 a month so technically we have enough in there to run two months paying you guys’ salaries.”

Gieck made a motion to waive water and sewer bills for the months of April and May. Members of the board and safety personnel protested that they wouldn’t waive the bills. The board should send them out and let the people who are going to pay them do it.

“Waive your shut off is all you are going to need to do,” Struemph said.

Abel said she would not announce they are going to waive the shut-off fees. Stanfield said they want to cut the people some slack if they can’t pay.

“I would charge the late fee because they have the option to come up here and pay without coming into contact with anyone,” Abel said.

Francis said waiving the late fee was really for someone who is laid off or low-income families.

Stanfield said they have a dropbox so people can pay it and Jones added that the people who aren’t going to pay their bill are the same ones who aren’t going to pay their bill anyway.

“Those are also the ones that are going to be the first ones hit,” Gieck said. “They are not going to have any money coming in.”

Abel said if they are wanting to be kind, they could charge the minimum $36.28 water and sewer fee for everyone.

“Let’s just continue on like normal and do not shut them off,” Abel said. “And if they are turned off, go turn them on. They will figure it out.”

Struemph said they are going to confuse so many people.

“You’re saying not to put it in the paper that we are going to cut them some slack? Just let it go and let them think that they still have to pay?” Stanfield asked.

Jones said they would still get shut off next month and Struemph said it is harder on them because they are still going to owe the same amount on the bill plus the following month’s usage and a late fee if they don’t pay on time.

“Then they better limit their water use,” Abel said. “But we are encouraging handwashing.”

Abel said the board is doing a good enough deed to turn their water back on so people can stay clean and cook. The least they could do is come up to city hall and drop off their water bills into the dropbox that they could use a Kleenex to open.

“We can put it on a minimum and she is going to adjust all the reading numbers every time,” Abel said, pointing at Hicks. “It is already an (expletive deleted) to get the numbers because the reader don’t read properly. Then they are popping out calculators for every resident to make it work.”

Abel said they could cut everyone down to the minimum and pay the clerk overtime while she calculates the figures to put it in. Seaver suggested, in an effort to promote handwashing, to waive one month of payments across the board and afterward, continue paying bills as usual. The city and residents then would continue business as usual. Seaver asked the board how they felt about the idea. Abel asked how Seaver felt about it. Gieck said the motion was similar to his and they voted it down.

“I want to go on business as usual,” Struemph said. “Everyone wants to go to work, and it’s a lot less work for those trying to stay away from people.”

Gieck’s motion died for a lack of a second. Seaver asked if there was anything they wanted to do.

“I make a motion to leave everyday business as usual, however, do not disconnect people because of a lack of funds, and this would be revisited every month (as the pandemic continues),” Abel said. “You still will be charged a late fee if it’s not paid. But you will not be turned off — to encourage proper hygiene during the pandemic.”

The motion passed with a 3-1 vote, with Gieck against.

Seaver added that President Donald Trump has recommended that no more than 10 people gather together at a time. He asked the board what they wanted to do about the Belle-Bland Community Center and other rentable facilities owned by the city.

“When you closed city hall you roped yourselves into closing the Community Center,” Francis said.

Abel made a motion to close all the rentable facilities, including the two buildings at the park and the park pavilions, along with the Community Center.

“I make a motion to close all city-owned rental facilities for the month of April until the State of Emergency is lifted,” Abel said. “As far as the park, use your head.”

The board approved the motion with a 3-0-1 vote, as Stanfield abstained.

The approval of the motion effectively cancelled all events at those facilities through the month of April. Anyone who had arranged to rent any of the facilities should contact Hicks at the City Administration Building to reschedule or receive a refund.

Editor’s Note: The city originally agreed with the Maries County Commissioners and chose not to recommend businesses to close.

However, since the meeting on Thursday, recommendations from the health department and state and federal governments have closed businesses and restaurants are closed to diners. Some are offering delivery or pickup options.

Seaver updated information on his Josh Seaver, Mayor, Belle Missouri Facebook page on Monday that the mandate also includes no gatherings at the area commonly known as “the tracks” as well as at the auction house.

“Please understand that this situation is still fluid and I will continue to push out information as it becomes available,” Seaver said.

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