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Commissioners discuss COVID-19 precautions

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Josh Bell, a Farmington selectman and previous chair of the county’s budget committee, prepares to flip a coin Monday morning to determine who will sit on the committee’s ninth seat. Tiffany Estabrook of the Chesterville board, seen behind Bell, got the seat. (Photo by Scott Landry)

FARMINGTON – Commissioners discussed possible improvements to county facilities once they reopen at Tuesday’s meeting.

Currently, county facilities are closed to the public. The courthouse has signs up asking people not to come inside and a drop box for material, the communications lobby is not open to the public and local law enforcement has limited arrests when possible in a bid to keep COVID-19 out of the jail. On Tuesday, commissioners reviewed possible changes to the courthouse for when that facility opens back up to the public. No date for that step has been set.

The county facilities manager, Nick Palmer, got a quote to install special doors at the entrances to some courthouse offices, providing a place for county staff to safely interact with the public. He also got a quote to purchase desk-mounted pieces of thick, transparent plastic, similar to what many food stores have installed, to limit the potential for transmission of COVID-19. Three doors would cost roughly $3,500 while six desk shields would cost $840.

Commissioners agreed that shields were a good idea but balked at the cost of the doors. Palmer explained that merely blocking entryways to offices would be an issue due to possible violations of the fire code. Register of Probate Joyce Morton said that her office got a lot of foot traffic – one service Probate provides, for example, is issuing passports – and due to the office’s size, social distancing was difficult.

“We don’t have six feet among any of us here,” Morton said, requesting a half-door be installed.

Commissioners decided to wait until their next meeting on May 5 to give the county time to look at other options for doors and other improvements. Money in either the courthouse reserve account or the county’s contingency funds could be used for improvements; Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Hardy suggested that federal funds could also be used to offset COVID-19-related expenditures made by the county.

In other county-related business, the Franklin County Budget Advisory Committee was set at a caucus of county selectpersons held Monday evening. District 1’s representatives will be Selectpersons Tiffany Maiuri of Wilton, Judy Diaz of Jay and, new to the committee this year, Gary McGrane of Jay. For District 2, the board members will be Selectpersons Josh Bell of Farmington, Travis Pond of New Sharon and Tiffany Estabrook of Chesterville, a previous member of the committee who was reelected following a tie vote thanks to a coin flip held early this morning outside the American Legion Post in Farmington. District 3’s representatives will be Selectpersons Bob Luce of Carrabassett Valley, Morgan Dunham of Kingfield and Ray Gaudette of Phillips, another previous member of the committee that was reelected.

Commissioners expressed support for holding budget meetings in person, rather than through teleconferencing, when possible.

In other business, commissioners also vote to accept $3,628 in funds through a criminal forfeiture relating to a drug trafficking case.

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