Even as Columbia County and the City of State Helens move into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening framework with less public restrictions, Mayor Rick Scholl tells The Chronicle, the State of Emergency declaration he issued in March is still in place.
“No, we are not lifting the State of Emergency for now because that would close the door on funding,” Scholl said. “We don’t have any regulations for the State of Emergency, so if we were to lift the declaration it would close down future funding for small businesses.”
In fact, on June 3, the St. Helens City Council approved a $150,000 COVID-19 block grant to assist small business impacted by the pandemic and state ordered closures.
In early May, King told The Chronicle that the city was able to assist nonprofits impacted by the health crisis.
“The City has provided direct monetary support to community-based nonprofits who are struggling to meet the needs of most of the area's vulnerable neighbors, including the Columbia Pacific Food Bank, St. Helens Senior Center, Columbia County DHS Child Welfare, in-kind support to the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, and utility assistance funding administered through Community Action Team,” King said.
There is no timeline for when the city’s State of Emergency might be lifted, Scholl said.
“Phase 2 might go through September, is what the governor has said, so hopefully we will be out of it by than,” he said.
Reopening city offices
With Columbia County’s Phase 2 reopening approval, King said even with the State of Emergency in place, the city will begin reopening its government offices.
“We plan to reopen city offices and buildings as soon as it is safe to do so, regardless of the status of the State of Emergency,” King said. “Right now, safety equipment, such as plexiglass, sanitation supplies, etc., is being ordered and installed at each of our offices and buildings. Once a work area has the needed safety equipment installed, any necessary sanitation supplies, and a plan in place to meet the current state guidelines, we will be reopening that location or work area.”
King said as the various city departments reopen, public announcements will be made.
“You may see some office areas reopening very shortly,” King said.
Under the State of Emergency St. Helens government buildings and offices were closed to the general public. The closures included St. Helens City Hall, public library, public works offices, city police department lobby, and the St. Helens Recreation Center. All city recreation program events were also canceled.
St. Helens Municipal Court was limited to previously scheduled court appearances and city council meetings were doe electronically. Essential in-person meetings with city staff were arranged by appointment.
St. Helens police officers and St. Helens public works crews continued to respond to calls. Water service disconnections for non-payment of a St. Helens utility bill were temporarily stopped.
The City of St. Helens also created a webpage related to COVID-19. Updates regarding impacts to local government were posted online at https://www.ci.st-helens.or.us/administration/page/covid-19.