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Prioritizing services keeps city employees working

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Four weeks into the governor’s emergency declaration related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Roswell has not laid off or let go any full-time employees, City Manager Joe Neeb said at Thursday evening’s meeting of the Roswell City Council.

While temporary employees were sent home until further notice, 24 employees have been reassigned, mostly from services categorized as “non-essential,” Neeb said.

The city has created four categories for city services — essential, partial essential, partial non-essential and non-essential. Neeb said the term “essential” can be misleading, however.

“I don’t believe in essential and non-essential services. If the service wasn’t valuable for the city, we would not be providing that service. So it is really about a lower to higher priority as to what we need to take care of today, as opposed to what we want to take care of tomorrow,” he said.

The term “essential” was used mainly to connect to the language used by the state and federal government.

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Because the pandemic is an evolving situation, the city must constantly update its response, so services might shift from one category to another as needed. That’s one reason the city has kept all regular employees working somewhere in the city, Neeb said.

Services that have been deemed essential are infrastructure, public safety, administration and communication, and transportation. All of those departments — which include water and sewer, sanitation, police, fire, emergency management, public affairs, the city clerk and municipal court — remain open to the public via phone or email.

The police department, municipal court and air center are accessible in person, and the cemetery remains open to the public for visitation of grave sites.

Partial essential services are those that need to continue at a lesser extent due to involvement with other essential services or businesses, Neeb said.

“When the governor determined what she considered essential businesses versus non-essential, construction was a big one, so all the permitting offices need to remain active and working,” he said.

Those services include planning and zoning, fire marshal, engineering, code enforcement, Human Resources, finance, IT and building inspections.

Partial non-essential services need minimum operation during the pandemic. Those include the library, parks, golf course, recreation and aquatics center, animal control and the zoo.

“The zoo is a really good example. If we don’t feed the animals, we won’t have animals for a zoo,” he said.

For the golf course, it’s a matter of maintaining the greens.

“If we let that grass go fallow and go wild, we will lose all the expense that we put into the greens,” he said.

Those services deemed non-essential are the auditor, the visitors center, convention center, the museum and adult center.

Even with those non-essential services, however, staff will be in and out of the buildings for maintenance purposes.

“We have a museum that is worth $35 to $50 million dollars. We need to make sure that asset is protected for when we get through this thing,” Neeb said.

He said the city is keeping a close eye on a possible extension of the state’s emergency order, for an opening date for services. However, he said, not all services will likely come back online all at once, especially with news from the governor’s office Thursday that peak COVID-19 cases might not come until sometime in May.

“July 1 is when we are trying to plan for reopening essentially. That is far enough out that we can start planning,” he said.

“We will not be able to flip the switches on for all of our services. It will be kind of a dimmer switch,” he said.

Going into summer, the Recreation and Aquatics Center will be a focus to reopen, he said.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.