Back to normal: County courthouse to lift appointment requirement
LISBON — Anyone with business at the Columbiana County courthouse will no longer need an appointment come June 1.
County commissioners on Wednesday announced they are lifting the appointment requirement and other restrictions put in place to protect courthouse employees against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It’s back to normal,” said commission chairman Jim Hoppel.
Since March 23, anyone with business to transact at the courthouse needed to call ahead for an appointment and then was let through the locked front door after pushing a buzzer to alert the sheriff’s deputy manning the security checkpoint inside. Their temperature was then taken before being allowed to enter and a mask was issued if they did not have one.
Even though the restrictions are lifted, the public still needs to follow the safety guidelines recommended by the state health director, such as practicing social distancing. Masks are recommended but not required.
“I would hope people keep practicing social distancing and follow the other recommended safe practices,” Hoppel said,
Anyone entering the courthouse will still be subject to a temperature scan and asked several questions about their health before they will be allowed all the way in.
Lifting of restrictions was done in consultation with other officeholders, but commissioners indicated they are not sure if any officeholders intend to stick with the appointment requirement. Commissioner Tim Weigle recommended the public call the office they intend to visit ahead of time to make sure.
While commissioners control the courthouse, they cannot tell other elected officials how to run their office. Some offices reduced operating hours and adopted policies allowing only one person into their office at a time. Common Pleas Court resumed holding hearings in person on May 18, and the clerk of courts resumed normal operating hours about the same time.
In their news release, commissioners stated any office that chooses to remain closed for a portion of the day should follow the county personnel policy requiring employees use their sick and vacation days in order to continue being compensated for those days they are absent.
The news release also stated there will be a hiring and wage freeze until Oct. 1.
Hoppel was asked how commissioners intend to enforce the pay/hiring freeze and the personnel policy since that would appear to be up to the individual officeholder.
“They know what we’re looking for and you would think with the financial problems we’re likely to have … you would hope they would abide by that,” he said.
Commissioner Mike Halleck pointed out just this week Lucas County, which takes in Toledo, cut its budget by 20 percent, and he knows of other counties that have enacted similar cuts due to the impending loss of operating income because of the pandemic and the government’s response.
“I think the public understands, as does our officeholders, who have always cooperated and worked with us,” he said, adding all county offices remained open during the crisis, unlike other counties.
Commissioners are waiting to see if there is a significant drop in county sales tax revenue, which accounts for 70 percent of the county general fund operating budget.
Halleck said thousands of people have lost their jobs over the past nine weeks as businesses were forced to close. “Many people in the private sector have made sacrifices but no one here has missed a pay check,” he said.
Commissioners are sitting on about $11 million in surplus funds they have been able to set aside due in large part to record carryover balances of the past four to five years.
“The main reason were not in trouble is because we’ve been prudent with our spending. If this (the pandemic) would have happened 10 years ago we would be on the verge of bankruptcy,” Halleck said.
In related new, commissioners announced the public will be allowed to resume attending their meetings, which will no longer be televised via Zoom. Social distancing will be practiced and so will the state restriction limiting public gatherings to less than 10 people.