LIMA – Keeping essential public services available to the taxpayers who fund these resources has proven difficult as city leaders roamed uncharted territory during the novel coronavirus.
Pandemic or not, residents still expect their streets to be cleared of snow, clean water to flow from their taps, and their public records requests to be dealt with quickly.
Mike Caprella, superintendent of public services for the city of Lima, said personnel issues were one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic.
âWe were forced to look at how we plan the employees,â he said. âWe couldn’t afford to have all of our employees from a particular group in one place at the same time. Take the example of the wastewater treatment plant. It is one of the city’s most crucial operations. If all the employees fell with COVID-19, we wouldn’t have anyone to operate the plant. It was therefore important that we rotate employees. My biggest challenge was making sure we had the staff to run things, âsaid Caprella.
Departmental services never stop
In her elected role as custodian of public records in Putnam County, court clerk Kim Redman has been forced to balance access to government records with the safety of her staff and the public at large.
The onset of the pandemic led to a restriction on foot traffic in the county courthouse and the way some key services were being run, she said.
“Those summoned to court on indictments, civil cases or small claims have been advised that an extension will be granted on request,” Redman said. âPre-trial conferences and hearings have been converted from in-person sessions to conference calls or video on demand. Zoom and other video audiences are used where possible. “
Redman said staff had been rotated to reduce their exposure to possible infection. Social distancing measures for employees, lawyers, jurors and others involved in legal proceedings have been put in place.
âTitle applications can now be made by filing all necessary paperwork in the county drop box or through the US Postal Service. Dealers can drop off the title job at our safety post and then receive a phone call when it’s completed, âsaid Redmon. âRequests for public documents continued to be dealt with by phone, fax or e-mail without delay. “
The clerk said the focus will remain on electronic transactions to the extent possible, even after the pandemic has passed.
Villages not free from misfortunes
Unlike the Lima City or Putnam County government staffing levels, Columbus Grove Village Administrator Jeff Vance only has a handful of employees. He said they all rallied around during the pandemic as some of their colleagues were forced into self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus.
âBeing a small village, we all have a cross-training to do a lot of different jobs,â Vance said. The village’s maintenance and billing workers have been quarantined at various times over the past year, and their colleagues “have just taken over,” he said.
The village office is currently closed to walk-in traffic; appointments with village officials are by appointment only, Vance said.
The administrator said one of the toughest decisions to make centers on closing village parks and park programs last summer.
âIt’s a big deal when the kids aren’t able to play ball,â Vance said.
The pandemic affected income
Caprella said that because the city of Lima’s utility service is funded almost exclusively by user fees, the pandemic has had a negative effect on income.
âWhen factories closed or downsized and restaurants closed, they didn’t use as much water as usual. Water consumption has decreased, although it was not too bad. But when usage is down, our fixed costs stay the same.
Incomes were also negatively affected when some households could no longer afford to pay their utility bills as the pandemic gripped the region.
âWe had a moratorium on utility shutdowns even before state mandates came into effect,â Caprella said. âWe’re back to normal now. We’ll give people a few more months to pay their bill, but eventually we’ll end their service. But we’re not extinguishing near household count like we used to. We try to work with our clients.
Most government agencies have been forced to hold their meeting virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Allen County Council of Commissioners is pictured above at one of these meetings.
Mike Caprella, director of public services for the city of Lima, said he had been forced to juggle labor assignments as collateral during the ongoing coronavirus. âMy biggest challenge was making sure we had the staff to run things,â he said.