Discussion of coronavirus dominates regular Monday meeting of Allamakee County Board of Supervisors; Approval given to employee health insurance renewal at five-percent rate increase

by Joe Moses

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday, March 16 to address a full agenda of items including the discussion and consideration of coronavirus actions, setting a letting date for gravel resurfacing and the consideration of a Health Insurance Committee recommendation.

Before moving into Public Comment, Board Chairperson Larry Schellhammer and Supervisors Dan Byrnes and Dennis Koenig agreed to move agenda items relating to health insurance matters to later in the meeting to allow for the arrival of Benefits Consultant Brian Huinker of Midwest Group Benefits, Inc., who was delayed due to a schedule conflict. The Supervisors added an emergency agenda item relating to the discussion and consideration of coronavirus actions.

During Public Comment, resident Jack Knight briefly addressed the coronavirus discussion that took place at last week’s meeting. Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer presented feedback she received from First Deputy Auditor Janel Eglseder, who attended a recent Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) meeting. Beyer indicated that election matters relating to the coronavirus were discussed at this meeting including poll worker safety and that absentee voting may be encouraged for the June primary election.

Beyer discussed the hiring of part-time help for the Primary Election with the Supervisors approving to authorize the County Auditor to hire part-time help with hours and salary at her discretion.

Beyer addressed the next agenda item relating to the consideration of virtual private network (VPN) access for Auditor’s Office staff. Beyer suggested that there may be a need to have VPN access available for employees to work from home if under quarantine. Beyer indicated that approval from the Supervisors would be necessary for Solutions to move forward on this matter. The Supervisors approved to permit VPN access for the Auditor’s Office.

The Supervisors moved into the discussion of COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus), with Allamakee County Emergency Management Coordinator Corey Snitker providing an overview of the matter. Snitker reported that two confirmed cases have been found in Allamakee County. Allamakee County Public Health Supervisor Lisa Moose, Assistant Supervisor Sheryl Darling-Mooney and CEO Mike Myers of Veterans Memorial Hospital (VMH) provided additional feedback on coronavirus preparedness and protocols in place at VMH.

Moose added that the two confirmed cases in Allamakee County were travel related. Myers recommended that those with symptoms contact their provider by phone prior to coming to the hospital for guidance and to prevent exposure to other hospital patients. Moose advised that this strain of coronavirus is new and causes respiratory symptoms with ongoing learning taking place about virulency and incubation period of this strain of the virus.

Mooney discussed the importance of hand washing as a preventative measure and that the Iowa Department of Health (IDPH) is a resource that department heads should use for information relating to work area cleaning and other matters. Mooney also discussed symptoms of the coronavirus infection including fever and respiratory distress.

Snitker indicated that the Federal government has declared a national emergency with Federal and State support being made available. Mooney discussed the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) being in short supply globally with many manufacturers being located in China.

Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick talked about measures being put in place to limit contact and to prevent exposure. Allamakee County Attorney Anthony Gericke reported that jury trials and civil trials are being postponed and are scheduled to resume in April. Snitker provided a recommendation to continue to use the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and IDPH websites as trusted sources of information.

Upon his arrival, Huinker provided an overview of the County employee health insurance quote provided by Aetna with a five-percent increase over last year’s premium. Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour advised that the Health Insurance Committee had voted to continue with the same Aetna health insurance plan as last year.

The Supervisors approved the Aetna health insurance quote with an employer contribution of $875 per month per employee for the next fiscal year.

Supervisor Byrnes complimented the work done by the Health Insurance Committee and Huinker in getting a quote that serves the County’s needs at a workable price. Byrnes said that the development of the side fund four years ago was a good move by the Health Insurance Committee and has created a better scenario for the County.

Beyer provided a brief overview of options available for self-funded dollars to be placed in interest bearing accounts. The Supervisors approved to authorize the County Auditor to place partially self-funded funds in an interest bearing account at her discretion.

Ridenour provided a recommendation to set April 13 at 10 a.m. as the letting date for granular road rock in five divisions. Ridenour advised that 120,999 tons of Class A crushed stone would be needed on 426 miles of secondary roads. The recommendation was approved by the Supervisors.

Prior to Adjournment, further discussion relating to coronavirus preparedness took place with Department Heads. Snitker indicated that the Treasurer’s Office will not be conducting any driver’s tests this week due to proximity concerns within vehicles. Allamakee County Assessor Ann Burckart discussed the possibility of protest hearings being conducted by telephone.

Mellick discussed the need to purchase PPE and other necessary supplies as they become available. The Supervisors agreed to suspend the County credit card policy to allow the purchase of PPE with Mellick to be the point of contact for these purchases by other departments.

Snitker and the Supervisors discussed planning for a potential closure of the courthouse to the public with offices to continue to operate. Allamakee County Conservation Director Jim Janett reported that the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center in Lansing was closed to the public earlier that morning with further decisions to be made following the next 72 hours.

Snitker and Beyer discussed the process of contacting Department Heads and employees as decisions relating to courthouse access are made in addition to the process of disseminating this information to the public. Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Tom Blake discussed the possibility of holding a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting through online means.

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