Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Gov. Jay Inslee has since ordered Washington residents “stay at home” for two weeks on March 23, 2020.
On both sides of the White River, Enumclaw and Buckley mayors have issued emergency proclamations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the pandemic might be worldwide in scope, the fallout is felt everywhere. And the Plateau communities are no different.
While it’s important for citizens to understand what the declarations mean to their individual communities, it’s also worth noting what they do not allow. City officials in Enumclaw and Buckley have emphasized that emergency declarations do not grant city officials the authority to issue “stay at home” orders. Enumclaw Mayor Jan Molinaro and Buckley’s Pat Johnson make it clear such extreme measures would have to come from above – the governor’s office obliged, announcing the order on Monday, March 23, after the printing deadline for this paper.
The declarations are important, though, for other reasons.
Enumclaw City Administrator Chris Searcy said a key element of Molinaro’s declaration is that it allows the city to ignore certain regulatory hurdles during a time of immediate need.
For example, if the city needed to make purchases or hire outside expertise to deal with coronavirus-related issues, decisions could be made immediately. Typically, the city would call for bids or, at least, shop around for the best offers.
The city has not had to use its new-found authority, Searcy said, but it’s a good provision to have at the ready.
Additionally, the emergency declaration allows the city – in a time of need – to bypass existing personnel policies. Traditionally, employees are given notice if their work schedules are to be changed; during this time of emergency, Searcy explained, those changes could be made immediately.
Finally, responses to the pandemic will necessitate spending unfathomable amounts of money across the globe, and small communities everywhere are making sure they’re in line for some financial support. By issuing emergency declarations, authorities in both Plateau communities will have the ability to seek restitution for costs incurred battling the coronavirus.
“That is a huge part of it,” Mayor Johnson said, referring to the ability to recoup unplanned expenditures. In a letter to the community, she wrote that the declaration “is one of the first steps toward making the city and local businesses eligible for emergency funding should it become available and necessary.”
During this time of emergency, Johnson wrote, the city of Buckley was implementing “some operational changes aimed at protecting the health and safety of everyone in our community. While some of these changes are not desirable, they are necessary.”
For example, in keeping with social-distancing guidelines, the small lobby at Buckley City Hall is now a one-at-a-time space. A sign instructs visitors to wait outside until called upon.
That policy took an unusual shift last week when the city was ready to open bids for an upcoming project. With contractors awaiting the verdict, all were herded to the lawn outside City Hall where business could be conducted and personal space respected.
Senior citizens remain “our biggest concern,” Johnson said. So, while the senior center doors are closed, meals will be avail for pick-up; for those with greater needs, she said, food will be delivered.
Other emergency measures taken in Buckley include limited hours at City Hall (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and a “no cash” policy for those paying utility bills. Using credit/debit cards limits the chance of a virus being spread. Additionally, all non-essential meetings have been canceled and the Buckley Youth Center is shuttered until further notice.
In Enumclaw, Searcy reported all city buildings are closed except the police department lobby. The city-owned swimming pool originally went to a limited schedule but it, too, has now been closed. The senior center continues to provide meals, but only on a to-go basis. Home-bound seniors will still get deliveries.
NO UTILITY SHUT-OFFS
During these tough times – when some are seeing paychecks dwindle, many have children home from school and a growing number are taking a stay-in-place stance – both Enumclaw and Buckley are giving utility customers a break.
Searcy reported March 18 was a day that late notices would have typically been sent to Enumclaw customers who are behind on their payments. The letters were not sent, he said, the late charges were not imposed and the city has temporarily called a halt to disconnecting any utilities.
Johnson said Buckley is doing the same, having determined no one’s utilities will be shut off while the COVID-19 crisis exists.