County officials discuss operations, communications contingency plan

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FARMINGTON – Meeting via a teleconference call, county commissioners and other officials discussed how the novel coronavirus would impact county operations moving forward and approved a contingency plan for the Franklin County Regional Communications Center.

Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Hardy said that dispatchers at the center had come together to develop a continuity of operations plan. If it was to be deemed necessary that dispatchers shelter in place, Hardy said, teams of four dispatchers would work for two week rotations. Hardy noted that commissioners would be alerted if it was necessary to implement the plan, while County Clerk Julie Magoon said that she had contacted the union to see if there were any issues.

Using roll call-style votes over the phone, the commissioners unanimously supported the plan.

Sheriff Scott Nichols said that he had asked local law enforcement to hold off on arrests except for cases of domestic violence, sex crimes and other major crimes in a bid to cut down traffic in and out of Franklin County Detention Center.

“Everything else, we’re asking for them to issue summons, or arrest with [personal recognizance] bail,” Nichols said, noting that local agencies were “cooperating fantastically” with that request. “That’s been helpful keeping stuff out of the jail.”

Nichols has also been working to address other possible issues that could arise, including issuing a public request for personal protective gear for staff treating inmates that might have COVID-19. He said he’s received disposable gowns, face shields, gloves and masks as a result of that request. He’s also been talking to Sodexo, the company that provides food to the University of Maine at Farmington, to ensure he can feed prisoners if the jail loses access to its kitchen staff.

Nichols said that he was also looking into temporary lodging for employees, should a situation arise where an employee didn’t want to go home and potentially risk spreading the virus to his or her family.

Turning to the budget process, Magoon recommended that department heads, commissioners and budget committee members utilize phone conferencing to review the 2020-2021 budget.

“We’re trying to limit foot traffic here at the courthouse and at all of our facilities,” Magoon said.

Magoon said that she would be talking with Josh Bell, the Farmington Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee chair, about the conducting the annual caucus that places selectmen on the committee.

Commissioners also unanimously approved opting out of paid leave and expanded medical leave elements included within the recently-approved federal coronavirus relief bill for the county’s emergency responders. Nichols, Hardy and Magoon met on the issue and thought that was the best way to proceed. While Nichols said that he would support employees that got sick, he was concerned about the potential of an employee vacationing to a location where the virus was prevalent, knowing they would automatically receive weeks of guaranteed paid leave upon returning.

Commissioner Charlie Webster of Farmington agreed, saying that he wanted to help county employees but that it should be on a case-by-case basis. The commissioners’ decision only applies to the county’s emergency responders, not other employees.

In other business, commissioners approved contracting with RHR Smith for the next four years. RHR Smith, the county’s previous auditor, was more than $20,000 less expensive that the second bid the county received, coming in at $38,000.

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