City Relaxes Restrictions; Pool To Open
The Britton City Council backed off on business restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic at a special meeting Monday night.
A resolution that was put into effect on March 24 had prohibited all restaurants, coffee houses, bars, and other public places from offering food and beverages for on-site consumption. It also directed the closure of all recreational faculties, athletic facilities, movie theaters, and music or entertainment venues, including video lottery rooms.
The new resolution, approved unanimously by the council, takes effect today (Wednesday). It allows all business operations previously closed to re-open with gatherings of people limited to one person per 30 square feet of room size. Businesses must also follow state guidelines regarding COVID-19. It also removed any penalties in place for not adhering to the restrictions.
Gov. Kristi Noem announced changes in those state guidelines on Tuesday.
Noem said that the state had cut peak projections by 75 percent and that hospital capacity greatly exceeds the needs the state is expected to have.
“People need to continue to take responsibility for personal health and safety, and they have done a tremendous job,” said Noem. “I am not announcing any new government programs but am putting the power of decision-making into the hands of the people where it belongs.”
Noem hoped that schools would consider a limited return of in-person instruction to check in with students before the school year ends. At the same time she warned that as the state does more testing the number of positive cases will rise.
“Local governments must be nimble and flexible as we see how the spread happens across the state,” added Noem. “We’re dealing with a very unpredictable virus, and I am still prepared to take action county by county.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. This is a marathon and not a sprint. But because of the smart decision-making by South Dakotans we are in the position we are in today.”
The Britton council also decided to open the swimming pool as planned this summer, to allow summer youth sports activities, and to keep city parks open.
There is a staff shortage for the pool at this point that could curtail hours the facility is open, and there will be some modifications at the pool to ensure social distancing in locker room and seating areas. The summer baseball/softball program is discussing a variety of scenarios to make that work for area youth.
“Life goes on as usual, but there will be changes,” said Britton mayor Clyde Fredrickson. “I do think people are aware of the risks, and I trust them to use their best judgment. I just don’t like living my life in fear and telling everybody else to dig a cave and crawl into it until this is over.”
There was discussion about a controlled re-opening of the Britton Area Event Center to allow access to pickle ball and the walking track, perhaps limiting hours and access. No action was taken at this time.
Fredrickson had lobbied the council to loosen restrictions.
“The mandatory shutdowns were all put in place for one reason – to flatten the curve so that we would not overwhelm the healthcare industry to the point we couldn’t handle the massive influx of people who contracted COVID-19. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened, and I think the northeast corner of the state has done a fantastic job. I would like to think the action we have taken had an effect on those numbers, but we will never know. But I do think it is time for government to get out of people’s lives. It’s about personal freedoms and personal responsibility.”
Marshall County still has just one positive case of the virus from a total of 38 people tested to date. Day County has none, Roberts County four, and Clark County one. Brown County has 30 and Codington County 14.
“In northeast South Dakota there are low rates of COVID-19 and low risk,” noted Fredrickson, “and I would like businesses to be able to follow state guidelines and make their own decisions.”
Council members tended to agree with Fredrickson while emphasizing that it remains important to follow state guidelines.
“I think with the information they have businesses know what they need to put in place to keep safe,” said board member Lindsey Kimber. “I think it’s time to quit living in quite such a lockdown.”
“I still think we need to put some guidelines in place so things don’t get out of hand, at least for another month,” noted Councilman Brian Beck. “I think we could go back to business as usual, but I would like to err on the side of caution a little bit, just in case.”
Council member Cristy Davidson cautioned people to not get too comfortable.
“You can already see with the nice weather that people have lightened up on restrictions, and it is hard to keep it up when nothing is happening here. But they are still predicting we will have a surge which would be a lot for our little hospital. The numbers are so hard to read and it’s hard to make decisions.”
In a related issue the board approved waiving late fees and eliminating water shutoffs for residents not able to make utility payments because of virus-related issues. Residents who will be late must notify City Hall and fill out a payment plan application.
Other agenda items included authorization for NECOG to proceed with the application for the Community Access Grant, which provide funds for towns of less than 5,000 for construction or reconstruction of major streets. The council discussed access roads to the hospital that are currently in bad shape and would include four blocks of Ninth Street and two blocks of Sixth Avenue at a total estimated cost of $1,422,695.
Grant money would pay 80 percent of eligible costs up to $600,000. The council decided to apply for funds for the two blocks of Sixth Avenue that would cost an estimated $469,000 for a five-inch mat, curb and gutter, and sidewalk. The city’s cost would be about $151,000. Additional funding could be available at a later date for the Ninth Street portion of the project.
The board discussed funding Main Street flags for Britton-Hecla graduates at a cost of $1,190, but voted down that proposal 3-2, deferring to school or private funding.
There was discussion on what to do to improve the road situation in the southwest corner of town. No plan is currently in place but the issue will be on the next meeting agenda.
A perpetual easement for encroachment was approved for a garage owned by Landon and Kristin Thayer to satisfy bank requirements. The easement had been grandfathered in when city ordinances had been passed previously.
The council was informed that the water improvement project is getting closer to completion. Work is being done to finish the pump house and complete check list items around town. The board approved an application for payment of $55,864.32 in order to get grant reimbursement.
The next regular meeting of the council will be Monday, May 11, at 6:30 p.m.
“I do think people are aware of the risks, and I trust them to use their best judgment. I just don’t like living my life in fear and telling everybody else to dig a cave and crawl into it until this is over.”