The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was a main topic of discussion at Tuesday evening’s Halifax Town Council meeting at town hall.
Town council voted on two items related to COVID-19: a budget amendment for the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding it recently received, and an emergency ordinance allowing council to meet virtually during the pandemic if the members determine it is unsafe to meet face-to-face.
“Basically what this does is allow us to meet in a virtual method if we choose to do so, if necessary,” Mayor Dexter Gilliam told council in a work session prior to the regular business meeting.
“Back in April, we had adopted a resolution for an emergency ordinance. That emergency ordinance expired after 60 days, and given the actions this past week of the governor I think we’ll take a look at extending, basically re-ratifying this amendment so we will have it in place should we need it over the course of the next 60 days…It’s the same thing we did back in April, but things (restrictions) had loosened, so we did not approve it again.”
Councilman Jack Dunavant made the motion to adopt the emergency ordinance, Councilman Mike Trent seconded the motion, and the motion carried in a 4-0 vote.
Council members Bill Covington and Gail Bosiger were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Halifax Town Council’s approval of the emergency ordinance comes on the heels of Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement of Sixth Amended Executive Order No. 67, which went into effect Monday. The executive order tightens restrictions in response to the rising number of cases of COVID-19, including limiting all public and private in-person gatherings to 25 or fewer people. An executive stay-at-home order was in place in Virginia when Halifax Town Council last passed the emergency ordinance giving them the option of meeting virtually.
On a related note, town manager Carl Espy told council prior to the vote on amending the town’s budget to reflect the $212,270.30 in CARES Act funding recently received that the town is looking into purchasing technology and equipment so the town’s employees and council can communicate remotely.
Councilman Bill Confroy asked Espy in the work session preceding the business meeting if the town had considered purchasing computer tablets for council members, which would cut down on the printing of agenda packets.
Espy responded that the town currently is comparing prices and plans to make that type of technology available to council members and town staff thanks to the CARES Act funding. Gilliam said he was pleased to hear about the plan to purchase the computer tablets.
“I think it’s an excellent suggestion,” Gilliam said. “It’s something that many businesses have moved to. It does save tremendously.”
Confroy also asked Espy about the possibility of projecting information such as budget sheets that could be viewed by both council members and members of the public attending meetings. Espy replied yes, that technology upgraded as part of the new orientation of the council chambers is budgeted as a result of the CARES Act funding.
The majority of the CARES Act funding is earmarked for renovations to the town hall, including moving the wall behind council chambers back approximately 2 feet, reconfiguring council chambers to form a U-shape with a new elevated floor, and constructing check-in areas at town hall’s front entrance with windows and a door.
The CARES Act funding also will be used to purchase “personal protective and sanitizing equipment purchased for all departments, town hall and police department upgrades for automated security doorways, including the Halifax Marketplace entryway, alteration of work areas, including the council chambers, office spaces and conference rooms for expanded, safer physical distances, along with the purchase of technology, which increase teleconferencing, teleworking and interaction among remote participants and those physically distanced within the building,” according to a projected amended budget worksheet provided to council by Espy and finance chairman Covington.
Town council voted on the budget amendment after holding a public hearing on the matter in which no one spoke. The town had to amend the budget for the current fiscal year because with the CARES Act funding added in, the budget will increase by more than 1%.
Confroy made the motion to amend the budget to reflect the CARES Act funding, and Dunavant seconded the motion. The motion passed in a 4-0 vote.
Council also discussed CARES Act resources for local businesses in their work session. Businesses in Halifax County are eligible to apply for a grant from the Halifax County Small Business Recovery Assistance Fund up to $10,000, depending on the specific needs of their business. Espy said applications will continue to be accepted and funds distributed until the funds are exhausted.