Palmyra eyes June 1 return to regular operations
Mike Arnold, Contributing Writer
Palmyra municipal operations could resume a normal schedule as soon as June 1, the town council concluded during its regular bi-monthly meeting May 13 at the town hall.
That date was recommended as a target the town would work toward for re-opening its offices and returning employees to their standard work following restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilwoman Christall Ingle cautioned a June 1 return would only be possible if all necessary safety equipment was available and in use by then.
Masks will be provided to employees and measures are being taken to outfit the town hall, including installation of safety shields for the front office. Upon re-opening, appropriate social-distancing requirements would apply and limits imposed on the number of people permitted to conduct business in the town hall at the same time.
As a follow-up to the move toward re-opening, Clerk-Treasurer Debra Jones presented the council with a quote for $579.80 for four safety shields. The proposed shields are movable and were suggested to be suitable. The council voted to purchase the shields.
The council also discussed the necessity of amending its water ordinance to waive late fees, which it had done temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Town attorney Adam Burkhardt said that action may be required based on a newer executive order issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb; however, he will discuss the town’s plans with the Indiana State Board of Accounts to determine if an amendment must be enacted. Burkhardt clarified late fees imposed by the town may be optional in nature, but waiving them could create internal billing issues. As such, the council will continue waiving late fees and re-evaluate during its second June meeting.
“The State Board of Accounts will be consulted about what the town has done to date,” Burkhardt added, also later stating his recommendation that the town follow Indiana’s re-opening procedures.
Jones mentioned the possibility of the town hiring a consultant to evaluate its financial accounts due to the impact of COVID-19. She said the town is already seeing decreased receipt of funds which could impact its accounts as well as the 2021 budget. Jones reported currently the water and sewer accounts seem to be in an acceptable place; however, she has concerns about the general fund. The town entered 2020 with a surplus, which has been useful during the downturn created by the pandemic, she said, but problems could arise as funds continue to dip. Possible risks to town funds for the remainder of 2020 include a smaller share of casino gaming revenue and lower amounts and/or late receipt of property taxes.
Council president Virginia (Jennie) Kirkham recommended monitoring the accounts and revisiting use of a consultant if Jones and the council agree it becomes necessary.
Ingle asked Jones if she could provide an estimate for the consulting services.
“I would be interested to see what they charge to come in and take a look at it,” Ingle said.
Jones agreed to research the figure and said the scope of the consultant’s work would be to review the town’s books and suggest ways to cut spending as well as generate additional funds.
In another matter, the council discussed two vacant positions and its plans to fill them. The first role is budgeted for 24 hours per week with primary duties of mowing and assisting with outdoor upkeep. The salary, which does not include benefits, depends on experience.
Ingle recommended by motion the council move ahead with steps to fill the position; the motion passed unanimously.
The council also discussed filling a housekeeping position once the town hall and community center re-open.
Ingle suggested advertising the position and the hiring process include different questions of applicants than those posed in the past. She also requested a member of the town council be present during interviews.
The council agreed to keep consideration of the role as a standing agenda item and re-evaluate until a decision is made.
Burkhardt said he believed a decision about the issue could be made during an executive session but would confirm.
The council also heard from Corydon property investor Christina Bolen, who inquired about liens associated with a duplex she is interested in purchasing at 910 Church St. Bolen asked about the possibility a portion of the funds comprising the liens (such as those tied to weeds levied on properties that have allowed grass to grow above levels prescribed in town ordinances) could be waived as a pathway to assist those wishing to purchase vacant properties.
Burkhardt said Harrison County certifies unpaid liens.
“I think that’s an open question as to if the town could waive the lien,” Burkhardt said, adding that he did not believe the suggestion to be impossible, although it possibly may require a cooperative effort between the town and county.
Bolen added she spoke with the Harrison County Board of Commissioners and was encouraged to continue the discussion with Palmyra officials.
Ingle said the council was supportive of efforts such as these, particularly if they made it easier to rehabilitate properties.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for tonight (Wednesday) at 7.