Supervisors discuss road project items and a variety of matters related to COVID-19, including release of case information by zip code and Treasurer’s Office concerns

by Joe Moses

The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors met in regular session Monday, May 11 to address a full agenda of items including review of the Rolinda Acres LLC construction permit application, setting a letting date for concrete pavement patching bids and discussion of COVID-19 related topics.

During Public Comment, Executive Director Val Reinke of Allamakee County Economic Development (ACED) reported that recently posted a blog entry that included information about the Driftless Area Scenic Byway and several Allamakee County attractions. Reinke also discussed River Travel Magazine’s 2020 Best of the River contest with several area businesses being nominated, noting that contest voting continues through May 31. Reinke said that Global Entrepreneurship Week will be taking place November 16-22 with ACED helping organize related community events. She also advised that Iowa Economic Development is continuing to provide small business grants and that Have Fun Biking has included information about Luster Heights and Yellow River State Forest.

Board Chairperson Larry Schellhammer advised that the community of Harpers Ferry is seeing an incredible amount of housing construction. Supervisor Dan Byrnes discussed a recent Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging (NEI3A) meeting and provided an overview of Allamakee County’s meal program with funding through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and local donations.

The Supervisors moved into the review of the Rolinda Acres LLC construction permit application. A public hearing on this matter was held at the May 4 Supervisors meeting with Allamakee County Environmental Health Director Laurie Moody providing an overview of the construction permit application. At the May 4 meeting, Moody indicated the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be making a determination as to whether this application will need to proceed through the Master Matrix, a scoring system used to evaluate the siting of permitted confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), due to adjacent dairy and swine facilities and the combined number of animals involved, or whether the project is to proceed on the basis of the construction permit application. At Monday’s meeting, Moody further discussed the matter indicating that the DNR’s attorneys have not yet provided a recommendation on the construction permit application. The Supervisors approved the construction permit application.

Allamakee County Auditor Denise Beyer addressed the next agenda item relating to use of the County credit card to purchase microfiber cloths for cleaning election equipment in the upcoming primary election. Beyer provided an overview of cleaning procedures to be used and discussed the use of disinfectant and microfiber cloths. The Supervisors approved the use of the County credit card for this purchase. Beyer also presented information relating to Certificates of Adjustment, which were reviewed and approved by the Supervisors.

Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour discussed the next agenda item relating to the consideration of the Division II bid for gravel resurfacing for Secondary Roads. At the April 13 Supervisors meeting, bids for Division I-V were opened and read aloud and at the April 20 Supervisors meeting, the Supervisors opted to table Division II and to move forward with the remaining four divisions. At their April 20 meeting, the Supervisors discussed that in the future, the bidding process may involve the request for two bids to include pick-up (quarry cost) and secondly to include delivery cost of gravel.

At the May 11 meeting, Ridenour provided a recommendation to reject the Division II bid from Bruening Rock Products of Decorah at $11.459 per ton, noting that negotiations have continued with Bruening as the only Division II bidder. Ridenour indicated that Bruening has verbally agreed to accept $10.569 per ton, an average based on Divisions I-V. The Supervisors formally rejected the original Division II bid of $11.459 per ton.

Ridenour provided a recommendation to set June 1 at 10 a.m. as the letting date for concrete pavement patching bids. The Supervisors approved the letting date as recommended by Ridenour.

The Supervisors moved into the discussion of COVID-19 related matters, with Allamakee County Treasurer Lori Hesse providing an update relating to the installation of counter top lexon shields, an alternative to plexiglass. Hesse discussed recent communications with the contractor who has received the materials and will be handling installation yet this week in courthouse offices. Hesse advised that the State of Iowa will not be providing antiseptic wipes, something that is limited in supply and will be necessary for wiping down counters.

Hesse further discussed that driver’s license matters will be handled by appointment only, which will aid in controlling hallway lines and office foot traffic, but provided a recommendation to have law enforcement or another representative present to assist in managing hallway traffic and ensuring that social distancing is adhered to. Hesse also discussed a recent update from the County Treasurers Association with only 13 Treasurer’s Offices currently open on a limited basis by appointment only in counties, with most having fewer than five positive COVID-19 cases in comparison to Allamakee County at over 100. Hesse provided a recommendation to wait and have no new positive cases in the county for two weeks prior to reopening.

Allamakee County Emergency Management Coordinator Corey Snitker discussed concerns raised by Hesse, with the use of antiseptic spray bottles with cleaning wipes being an option in place of traditional antiseptic wipes. Snitker advised that the two-week period of time prior to reopening the courthouse may not be realistic with occasional COVID-19 positive cases likely to continue to occur. Snitker reported that he has received most of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been requested by County offices. Hesse and Snitker discussed recommendations for disinfectant solutions to be used on equipment, including the vision test machine, versus counter space.

Allamakee County Recorder Deb Winke briefly discussed the option of having all County offices operate by appointment only and how that information could be conveyed to the public. Beyer added that passport services are currently being done by appointment only.

Snitker discussed guidance from the Department of Transportation (DOT) relating to in-vehicle driver’s tests with proximity and social distancing being concerns. Hesse indicated that a meeting with the DOT is scheduled for Tuesday this week to address this and other matters. Hesse further discussed that the DOT has moved to doing limited CDL testing with examiners communicating via headset while following semi drivers in another vehicle.

Beyer advised that work continues processing absentee ballot requests, commenting that it is good that the public is taking advantage of this option.

Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick provided an update for the Sheriff’s Department and the Public Safety Center. Schellhammer and Mellick discussed requests from the public to release information relating to positive COVID-19 cases by zip code. Allamakee County Attorney Anthony Gericke further addressed this matter indicating that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) specifies that officials are allowed to release generalized case data if it is de-identified in zip codes with fewer than 20,000 people to ensure patient confidentiality. Gericke indicated that approximately 30 states are releasing more detailed information organized by zip code with this being more common for metropolitan areas.

Gericke questioned the rationale for HIPAA using 20,000 as an arbitrary benchmark for this type of information release, preventing this information from being released in rural states. Gericke advised that this information by zip code would be beneficial to local governments as communities reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic. Gericke advised that it would be up to the Board of Supervisors to allow this information by zip code to be distributed, which would be a technical violation of HIPAA, even though privacy has not been compromised and names and street addresses will not be provided. Mellick indicated that it would be preferable to have this type of information released by Allamakee County Public Health rather than by the Sheriff’s Department or Emergency Management. Gericke indicated that many states are releasing this information and that Allamakee County would not be setting a precedent here by doing so. Following discussion, the Supervisors approved to have County Public Health release positive COVID-19 case information by zip code.

Gericke also discussed a court order setting June 3 for reopening the magistrate court with approximately 26 cases to be addressed that day. Gericke advised that a written plan is being created for his office and that this information will be shared with other department heads, indicating that it would be beneficial to have policies and planning in place relating to communications with the public regarding hallway lines and social distancing.

Schellhammer, Byrnes and Supervisor Dennis Koenig discussed the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and public feedback received relating to County employee raises. Schellhammer introduced the matter for board discussion indicating that he has received comments from members of the public with additional comments on the matter likely. A potential six-month suspension of raises was discussed. Byrnes advised that COVID-19 budget implications may not be fully determined until January of next year with many variables making it difficult to estimate the economic impact.

Prior to adjournment, Byrnes provided an update relating to the County Farm by discussing lime application and advising that terraces have held up well.

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