At an anything but regular meeting on March 17, the Town Council sat before an empty council chamber with just a handful of staff members on hand for support. The meeting was in the midst of a busy week of trying to get a handle on the COVID-19 outbreak and the council discussed the town’s steps taken and potential measures to protect citizens.
Town Manager Grady Miller outlined the measures town officials had taken to that point including a decision to close the Community Center effective on Wednesday, March 18, after the Democrats’ Presidential Preference election on Tuesday. All events and programs at town facilities have been cancelled through the end of April, and the Maricopa County Library District has closed the Fountain Hills branch of the library. A project to replace the carpet and paint in the library is planned and that work could potentially extend the library closure. Town Hall has also been closed to the general public effective Monday, March 23.
While Town Hall is closed to the public, the Fountain Hills Municipal Court remains open for walk-in services including orders of protection, injunctions against harassment, civil default and warrant resolution. Prior to coming to court, protective orders petitions should be filled out online at azpoint.azcourts.gov/.
Despite not providing in-person customer contact with residents during the closure, Town Hall employees will continue performing their job duties. Employees will be responding to telephone calls and emails from residents with requests for information, building permit requests previously submitted, plan reviews and other town service requests.
Miller said essential services will be maintained by the town, including public safety services provided by MCSO and Rural/Metro, public works, parks maintenance where the public continues to have access and finance.
He said some personnel will have the option of working remotely if they can.
Also, the scheduled meetings of all town boards and advisory commissions have been cancelled at least through April. Council will continue with scheduled meetings without the public and the sessions will be broadcast on Cox channel 11 and livestreamed.
Mayor Ginny Dickey signed an emergency declaration on Wednesday, March 18. The proclamation gives the town manager, in consultation with the mayor, authorization to implement any procedures and take any actions that he deems necessary to carry out the intent of the proclamation.
The declaration also provides for an official request from the town for “financial, mutual aid, and in-kind assistance be obtained from the County of Maricopa, the State of Arizona and the Federal Government of the United States.”
Miller told The Times that the town appears to be headed toward completing the current fiscal year on June 30 without any significant financial issues. He said revenues are well ahead of the same time last year and expenditures are down. Next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, is something staff will be watching closely as the COVID-19 emergency unfolds. Miller said some of the state shared revenues are stable and look positive for next year; however, the town receives significant shared sales tax revenue from that state and those, as well as local sales taxes, remain the big question going forward.
Council members had a number of questions and comments regarding the emergency during last week’s session.
Mayor Ginny Dickey said the welfare of the citizens is a top priority for the town. As of the meeting time there had not been restrictions on dine-in operations for restaurants other than advising people to adhere to social distancing. However, late last week Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered that restaurants and bars close except to provide carryout service. The order did also allow for the sale of alcohol with carryout orders.
“I hope the citizens fully appreciate the efforts of the town manager and the mayor in addressing this situation. In my view they are making the right decisions,” Councilman Alan Magazine said. “This is an incredible tragedy and a difficult time we are going through.”
Councilman David Spelich said he has a great deal of respect and appreciation to first responders.
“These are men and women who do not have the option to maintain ‘social distancing,’” Spelich said. “I also want to thank the employees of all the grocery stores in town. Tensions are very high and they are doing an unbelievable job. Thank you for your hard work.”
Councilwoman Sherry Leckrone expressed her appreciation to medical personnel.
Councilman Art Tolis urged staff and the council to do what they can to support businesses.
“I am concerned about the financial stability of our citizens and businesses, and what we [council] can do to offer some relief,” Tolis said. “How quickly can we put something together to act on?”
Town Attorney Aaron Arnson said he would do some research for the council, but he hesitated to discuss such action further without it being specified on the agenda.
“I will see what can be done and what you want to do,” Arnson said. “I don’t know that financial assistance what you are talking about, I’m not sure that is feasible.”