With Lebanon County’s always-busy municipal building shut down for two weeks in an effort to thwart the spread of the corona virus, employees are doing what they can to carry out necessary services.
On Tuesday, the City of Lebanon declared an emergency disaster and Lebanon County courts issued a judicial emergency in response to the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 virus.
“This is only for a two-week period and then we’ll re-evaluate,” said County Commissioner Chairman Bob Phillips. “We’re trying to fulfill services to the public without exposing our employees to possible illness.”
City and county offices are still staffed with some services available to the public, but the municipal building will be closed until March 30.
Keeping crowds of people out of the municipal building is imperative at this time to reduce the chance of infection, the commissioners explained.
Currently, only one public entrance is open at the building; the entrance at the rear of the builder and the main parking lot.
Guards have been instructed not to let anyone enter the building unless they have an appointment with the court system, Phillips said.
If an individual informs the guard of a court date, the guard will call upstairs to the judges’ office to confirm that there is a hearing scheduled.
Before being allowed upstairs, the individual will be asked certain health-related questions.
Only emergency hearings, such as protection from abuse, emergency custody, and emergency delinquency will be held at this time.
It’s possible that some court hearings may be conducted via video conferencing.
People needing documents to be signed can inform a guard and wait outside while the guard alerts the intended contact.
The department employee will come outside to sign the necessary document.
Departments like Children and Youth and Probation are still required to fulfill their obligations, Phillips said.
Some of the employees of those departments work outside the building, Phillips said, but for those who are inside, creative measures are important to get the job done.
“Staff is being checked every day,” Phillips said. “These are all things we’re trying to do to get ahead of the virus.”
Employees at the Renova Center and the county prison are checked daily for any symptoms of COVID-19, Phillips said.
“They are mingling with a vulnerable population at Renova,” Phillips said, referring to the developmentally disabled population.
At the prison, there are 450 inmates, so bringing a contagious illness inside could have disastrous results, Phillips said.
“There are still some functions that need to be taken care of,” Phillips said. “But we’re trying to keep our employees as safe as possible.’
People are being encouraged to email or text if at all possible, if they have anything of a legal nature that would have come to a department in the building, Phillips said.
If a marriage license is needed, folks can go online to see what they need to do or call the department for further information.
People can still bring their tax payments, fines, or other necessary papers to the municipal building, Phillips said, explaining that a bin has been set in sight of the guards in the rear lobby that may be used as a drop-off receptacle.
“Sheriff’s deputies will be at the door during regular business hours,” said County Commissioner Bill Ames.
“Realistically, we’re not near any deadlines (for taxes), so people can mail their taxes in,” Ames said. “Some people do feel compelled to bring it in and as long as it’s clearly marked, we’ll make sure it gets to where it needs to go.”
Employees of several departments are still at work in the building.
“We’re still going in,” Ames said. “To the best of my knowledge, whoever can go in (employees) is doing so…if that will change all depends on how stringent things get.”
Surrounding counties, such as Dauphin and Cumberland, have also set restrictions on court and municipal services for the time being.
“It’s difficult for employees with child care issues, (since schools are closed) but for now, we’re fully staffed,” Ames said.
Nearly every week, county and city employees request time to go to educational seminars, many of them mandatory training requirements. All are usually approved by the county commissioners.
“We have cut off all travel and all training for the time being,” Ames said.
Two new hires have joined the employee pool, but as of now, all seminars have been put on hold, Ames said.
“We’re doing what we have to do at this time,” Ames said.
It is difficult for the departments who have personal interaction with people to deal with the temporary lockdown, said County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz.
“We’re coming up with more creative ways to do business, such as phone calls, faxing, emails and texts,” Litz said.
Litz interviewed a number of department heads to ask how they’re serving people at this time and put the interviews on YouTube, at the “local government” playlist.
Those interviewed include Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention Executive Director Holly Leahy, Children and Youth Director Erin Moyer, Veterans Administration Director Scott Kohr, Assessments Director Dan Seaman, and Public Information Office and County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth.
Depending on the duties, some public interaction is necessary, Litz said, using the County Planning Department as an example.
“They are still going out to do building inspections, but they’re practicing public distancing; washing hands, wearing gloves, and standing six feet away from others,” Litz said. “In our office, staff is doing a great job, wiping down door handles, phones, and surfaces.”
Informational forms for several departments can be printed out from the county website, Litz said, by going to LebCounty.org.
The April County Commissioners meeting has been scheduled, but, Ames said, the date might have to be changed. The regular County Commissioners meeting scheduled for yesterday was cancelled.
Meetings are videotaped and are available to be viewed on the county website, but are not live-streamed at this time.
“We’re still discussing the best way to have a meeting and we’ll continue to struggle with that until we come up with a logical solution,” Ames said. “We’ll do our best.”
Do you have a question about coronavirus? Let us know using the form below, and our newsroom team will look into it.
Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.