Commissioners approve closing of county buildings to the public

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Commissioners Terry Brann, left, and Charlie Webster at Tuesday’s meeting.

FARMINGTON – Commissioners approved closing county facilities to the general public and approved the hiring of part-time staff for the Franklin County Emergency Management Agency at Tuesday’s meeting.

FCEMA Director Tim Hardy said that county department heads had met recently and decided that the offices should remain open, albeit separated from the public.

“The consensus was that we need to continue with the continuity of operations,” Hardy said.

Public and private entities have been rapidly changing how they do business over the past few days, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, through the country and state. This morning, Maine Center for Disease Control announced that it was tracking 23 confirmed cases and another nine presumptive positive cases, mostly clustered in Cumberland County but with other cases in Androscoggin, Lincoln, Knox, Oxford, Kennebec and York County. Another 1,303 tests have come back negative.

Effective immediately, all county buildings and offices will be closed to the public until further notice, per a motion made by Commissioners Terry Brann of Wilton and Charlie Webster of Farmington. Commissioner Clyde Barker was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. That motion also allows Brann, the chair of the board, or a designee to modify that closure as necessary.

Signage on the doors will direct people not to enter the building. Instead, a lock box-styled cabinet will be placed outside near the Main Street entrance to allow for mail and other documents to reach county offices. In some cases, Facilities Manager Nicholas Palmer said, specific individuals needing to drop off or pick up paperwork would be able to call ahead and have staff meet them at the door. Questions regarding county operations can be directed to the County Commissioners Office at 778-6614.

In a second motion, commissioners approved allowing department heads to enact policies or procedures designed to protect the health and safety of county employees.

Acting Director of the Franklin County Regional Communications Center Amanda Simoneau said that the dispatch center would also be closed to visitors, with law enforcement and other parties allowed into the lobby area only. Signs will inform members of the public that questions and concerns can be directed to 778-6140 or 124franklincountyRCC@gmail.com

Hardy also asked the commissioners to approve using previously-approved Maine Emergency Management Agency grant funding to allow his office to hire two, part-time employees to answer phone calls and emails. After the meeting, Hardy and Simoneau – who is also the deputy director of the FCEMA – both said they expected to be busy in the coming weeks and that they felt it was important that the office be staffed to answer questions and pass information. Both individuals that FCEMA intends to hire have experience with emergency operations, he said.

“With so much information coming from so many different sources, we want to be careful what we release,” Hardy said, noting that his office had been relying on the Center for Disease Control.

“We want people to be concerned, but not panic,” Simoneau said.

FCEMA can be reached at 778-5892, while Simoenau’s email is asimoneau@franklincountymaine.gov. Tim Hardy’s email is thardy@franklincountymaine.gov. Email is preferable when possible, Simoneau said.

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