With all county offices remaining in service of the public, the Record-Herald reached out to different departments to see how they are operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following information was collected from Fayette County Recorder Cathy Templin, Fayette County Treasurer Susan Dunn and Fayette County Auditor Brenda Mossbarger.
Recently, the Fayette County Commissioners declared the county to be in a state of fiscal emergency. County offices were asked to assist with cutting the county’s general fund budget by 20 percent in order to stay ahead of revenue falling during the current pandemic.
These cuts included a request to reduce employee work hours and for elected officials to return 20 percent of their pay either to the county or as a donation to Fayette County Memorial Hospital.
The Fayette County Recorder’s Office has remained open throughout the pandemic from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday to provide in-person services, although it is currently cutting employee hours from 35 a week to 30 a week to assist with budget cuts.
At the present time, Templin explained she plans to contribute 20 percent of her own pay back to the county’s general fund as was suggested of elected officials.
“We are using due diligence in wiping surfaces and maintaining our distances. I have permitted the staff to alternate days off, but starting May 4th, all employees will be expected back at work,” explained Templin by email. “I will continue monitoring the revenue situation in the hopes that these drastic cuts will not be necessary through the end of the year.”
The Fayette County Treasurer’s Office door has been locked with no face-to-face customer transactions occurring. Those needing to make tax payments are encouraged to mail them in or use the drop box located on the wall beside the office door.
Those who still wish to pay their taxes by cash can knock on the door and wait for an employee to respond. Following a response, the cash and paperwork can be slid beneath the door, after which the cash will be counted and verified prior to being processed. Once processed, a receipt and change will be returned.
To assist those having financial difficulties during this time, the second-half real estate (RE) tax collection deadline has been extended to July 10. Although the RE deadline was extended, the second half mobile home tax collection deadline is still set for July 31.
According to Dunn, even though the deadline has been extended, payments can still be made prior to then, including monthly payments, although individuals who are ill are being requested to stay home.
If a person was to come in contact with the employees and then test positive for COVID-19, according to Dunn, all those they came in contact with would be forced to quarantine, which would force the office to close as it wouldn’t have employees who could work — which is a similar situation for other offices.
Once the office does open back up to the public, social distancing will continue to be followed. Dunn explained that they have had sneeze guards installed and will be placing X’s on the floor allowing two people into the office at one time. The public is also asked to only have one person per visit.
To assist with budget cuts, employees of the treasurer’s office are working reduced hours and taking turns with rotating days off to reduce the number of people in one place at one time. Travel expenses, association fees, advertising costs, and supply purchases have all been reduced.
Employees of the Fayette County Auditor’s Office have had hours reduced by seven per week and are rotating days off. Only one person is currently working on each side, bookkeeping and real estate, per shift, although Mossbarger continues to work daily to assist as well as attend various meetings.
Mossbarger explained, “I will also monitor as usual any unnecessary vouchers and watching the monthly deposits we get in for our sales tax, casino tax and interest.”
As previously reported, the county revenue depends highly on sales tax, casino tax, and interest from money left in the bank. All of those areas are being impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is in relation to why the budget needs cut, according to officials.
“In my positions as the county auditor, fiscal officer and member of the budget commission, we’re definitely going to watch these payments,” said Mossbarger. “Definitely the first two-to-three months are going to be lower because the mall was closed and casinos were closed. In July we’ll get May’s (payment), in August we’ll get June’s (payment). By then, June’s payment in August will tell us how we’re doing. I am so hoping that the stay-at-home order gets lifted by then — now that they’ve extended it a little more. And with the warmer weather, I am hoping and feeling the mall will thrive because people are going to want to get out.”
Even though the mall and other businesses have been closed or are losing sales, larger local businesses such as Walmart, Kroger and Home Depot all appear to be doing well, although Mossbarger explained they won’t know how well until the payments come in.
Besides budget alterations, the auditor’s office will continue to proceed with limited public access to assist in protecting all those involved in providing and receiving services. Both the bookkeeping and real state office doors have been locked with lock boxes having been purchased and hung by both doors. There is also a drop box available by the tax map office door for transfers.
All phone calls are being answered or returned and appointments can be made for those needing in-person assistance. During in-person visits, masks are worn by employees and social distancing is followed. After every in-person visit, which is common for bookkeeping, the area is sanitized.
For the time being, even once employees are brought back regularly, the office will remain limited to public access. Mossbarger explained they still need plexiglass (sneeze guards) installed in the real estate side.
The office doors, and associated lock boxes, for both the auditor’s and treasurer’s offices are located on the third floor of the County Administration Building, 133 S. Main St. in Washington C.H.
“We are not stating we cannot still help the public,” explained Mossbarger. “We are answering all calls and if appointments are needed for the public to come in, we have masks we can wear and will of course mandate the social distancing as we have been while working.”
“We stress that we are here for the public,” said Dunn. “We are here.”
Information from the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office and the Fayette County Engineer’s Office will be shared in a follow-up article next week.