CCAO has collected questions from members regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on counties. Click the question to expand. If you have questions, please contact Adam Schwiebert at email@example.com
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Are there options for reducing county elected officials’ salaries during budget reductions?
We have been receiving questions in recent days about county elected officials reducing their compensation as county revenues tighten in the coming weeks. We are providing the following information to help guide members should these questions arise in your county.
As counties consider budget reductions, some county elected officials have considered returning or reducing their statutory salaries to aid in cost reduction efforts. It is important to remember that this is the voluntary choice of individual elected officials alone. Commissioners cannot order the reduction of other county elected officials’ salaries.
If they wish to reduce or return their compensation, county officials have two options. Option one: they can voluntarily return all or a portion of their pay via check back to the county. Full tax withholdings and OPERS contributions would be taken out of paychecks regardless of the amount returned. Option two: county officials can notify the county auditor to reduce their compensation. The reduced salary would translate into less tax withholding and reduced OPERS contributions. Additional details regarding this process can be found in the following Attorney General opinion.
How does the Dispute Resolution Commission work?
The Ohio Department of Health released a document titled “COVID-19 Guidance on Dispute Resolutions for Essential and Non-Essential Businesses.” To read the document, click here. The process is:
- Business owner, or local health department, submits a dispute resolution request form to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) assigns the dispute resolution request with a number, reviews the submission, contacts the local health department for more information, and then shares with Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).
- PUCO then compiles cases, prepares meeting agenda, and publishes a meeting agenda on the ODH website with all requests to be considered.
- The Dispute Resolution Commission convenes virtually, reviews each case, and makes a determination.
- All Commission meeting minutes and opinions will be published on the ODH website with specific date and time specified for enforcement.
- Opinions and recommendations become final orders 48 hours after date and time of issuance absent action by ODH director or designee.
- ODH sends opinions and recommendations to local authorities and requestees.
The Commission will convene as needed and endeavor to make determinations on dispute resolution requests submitted within 24 hours.
Do counties need to declare a “State of Emergency” to receive federal funds?
Commissioners DO NOT need to declare a “State of Emergency” pursuant to ORC 5502.21 et seq. in order to receive federal FEMA disaster assistance (typical emergency management funding through the Stafford Act and State Disaster Relief Program). FEMA has indicated that counties (and other local
governments) are covered by the President’s actions on March 13 and do not have to take any action to be able to access FEMA funding. FEMA, in a response to NACo on March 19, 2020, indicates:
“On March 13, 2020, the President declared the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant an emergency declaration for all states, tribes, territories, and the District of Columbia pursuant to section 501 (b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5121-5207 (the “Stafford Act”). State, Territorial, Tribal, local government entities and certain private non-profit (PNP) organizations are eligible to apply for Public Assistance. States, Tribal and Territorial governments do not need to request separate emergency declarations to receive FEMA assistance under this nationwide declaration. The emergency declaration will reimburse for eligible emergency protective measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 emergency at the direction or guidance of public health officials under Category B of FEMA’s Public Assistance program.”
Does the county have to declare an emergency in order for its small businesses to qualify for Small Business Administration (SBA) COVID-19 federal funding?
No. The Ohio Development Services Agency is gathering information in order to declare a state of emergency statewide which will allow Ohio businesses to qualify for the SBA dollars.
Do the commissioners have the authority to close or control access to county buildings?
As the owner of the building, the commissioners can control access, except in the courthouse/spaces occupied by another independent office holder. With respect to county boards of DD and fairgrounds, while the commissioners hold title to the buildings, the county boards and county agricultural societies have management authority according to statute, thus giving them the access control. With respect to government buildings that have space leased to a private third-party, commissioners may close the portion of the building the commissioners/county staff occupy but need to leave access to the third-party lessee unless there is a lease provision stating otherwise.
What emergency authority do counties have to do purchasing? Can a county extend blanket purchasing orders during an emergency?
If an employee has no daycare due the coronavirus pandemic, can they bring their non-diagnosed non-symptomatic child to work?
From a loss control perspective only, we strongly recommend against permitting employees to bring a child/children to work. To permit children in the workplace for upwards of 40 hours per week considerably increases the county’s risk. For example, children could be injured, cause property damage, or injure employees or members of the public. Further, while children appear to be less likely to contract coronavirus, they are carriers and could infect an employer or members of the public. Children, too, can get infected in the workplace. The above are a few of the reasons upon which we base our recommendation. Should a county permit children in the workplace over our strong recommendation against it, the county should require the employee sign a waiver and assume the risks associated with bringing a child and obtain a legal opinion.
Who can I contact to make sure I am looped in on countywide pandemic response efforts?
The emergency response planner at your local health department or EMA can include you as county officials in countywide coordination efforts. Our counties have been active in coordinating their strategies with their local health departments.