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County to reopen administrative center

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Chaves County will reopen its administrative offices to the public Tuesday after two months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chaves County Administrative Center at 1 St. Mary’s Place houses most of the county’s public-serving offices, including the Clerk’s Office, the Planning and Zoning Office, the Assessor’s Office and the Treasurer’s Office.

Since Nov. 16, when a state government shelter-in-place order took effect due to rising numbers of new coronavirus cases in the state each day, the building has been closed to the public except by appointment.

Otherwise service has been provided online, by phone or by drop boxes and drive-up windows.

Offices will reopen next week following the federal holiday on Monday to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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“The reopening of the building to the public will allow people to more easily get the information that they need and to get help with any of the different services that we provide,” said Interim County Manager Bill Williams.

He said the county will require face coverings and social distancing inside the building, will block off seating in the commission chambers to ensure adequate spacing between people during public meetings, will limit the number of people inside offices at a given time, and will continue its disinfecting and sanitizing procedures and its use of personal protective equipment and physical barriers in some areas.

Even with the reopening, Williams said, the county plans to livestream future Board of Commissioners meetings on its Facebook page, including the Jan. 21 meeting.

The city of Roswell also closed its public facilities in November, but reopened them on Dec. 4.

When explaining the county’s decision to keep its administrative offices closed to the public at that time, Williams said the county wanted to be cautious and that it might wait to reopen after Chaves County reached the Green Level in the state’s three-tiered risk assessment method for gauging coronavirus spread. Green Level is considered medium risk.

Chaves County is one of 31 counties out of the state’s 33 counties remaining in the Red Level — very high risk — according to infection spread data updated by the state on Wednesday.

“The red-yellow-green protocol currently in place allows for entities to resume business at varying levels,” Williams said Friday. “We are not going to have as many people in our building as are in the ‘big box’ stores, and the business conducted by Chaves County residents is essential business. Our staff is committed to doing all that they can to both be safe and to keep others safe regardless of our personal opinions about the virus.”

Both city and county public facilities previously had been closed to the public from March 20 to early May when the state first ordered business and office shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 in New Mexico.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.