• 68°

County declares state of emergency

County Board passes measures to deal with coronavirus

The Mower County Board of Commissioners unanimously declared a peacetime state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during its meeting Wednesday morning.

The declaration brings temporary service modifications that will be in effect from 8 a.m. on March 19 through 8 a.m. on April 6. During this time, the county will continue delivering many of its services through alternate means and will be working to design new ways of delivering services that currently depend on face-to-face contact.

The following is in effect:

• The Mower County Government Center is closed to the public. There will be limited access to the Law Enforcement Center via use of the lobby phone.

• The Recorder’s Office is suspending passport processing. Burning Permits will only be available by phone only with payment via credit card for $21.50 ($20 and 1.50 service fee) or via mail for $20; permit will be emailed or mailed. E-recording will continue as normal, but all paper documents will be accepted by mail only and will be held for two days before processing. All paper documents will be mailed back.

• Auditor-Treasurer’s Office – Birth and death certificate requests can be made by mailing the application to the Auditor-Treasurer’s Office. Forms are available on the “Vitals Information” page of the Auditor-Treasurer’s web page on the Mower County website. Signatures on the forms must be notarized. Fees can be paid by check or by credit card (2.5 percent convenience fee applies). Requests will be processed and certificates sent out by mail. Marriage certificate requests and payment will be accepted by phone or by mail.

No notarization of signature is necessary. For marriage licenses, contact the Auditor-Treasurer’s office to notify them of your completed online application. The A/T office will print out and mail the application to the couple.  The application must be signed and signatures notarized and mailed back with payment to the Auditor-Treasurer’s office. Property tax payments can be mailed to the Auditor-Treasurer’s office; taxpayers may want to call the Auditor-Treasurer’s office at 507-437-9535 to verify the tax amount due first. Tax payments can also be made over the phone by calling the Auditor-Treasurer’s office. A $1.50 service fee applies to e-check payments and a 2.5 percent convenience fee applies to credit card payments.

• The Assessor’s Office has suspended physical inspection of property for valuation purposes  and on site homestead application processing. Valuation questions, requests for homestead applications, questions regarding special program and website information/subscriptions will be handled via phone or email.

• The Human Resources Office is closed to the public. Retiree health payments are to be mailed in and application will be accepted via email or fax.

• The Health and Human Services lobby and service windows will be closed. For food, cash, health care assistance, and public health, call the general number at 507-437-9700 or 507-437-9701. Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinic visits will be done over the phone at 507-437-9799. Child Support can be reached at 507-437-9715, Child Protection at 507-437-9732 and childprotection@co.mower.mn.us and Adult Protection at 507-437-9744 and HCBS@co.mower.mn.us.

• The Sheriff’s Department is discontinuing all non-mandated services, including fingerprinting.

• The Veteran Services office is closed and taking phone appointments only. Non-essential transportation service is discontinued.

• The Mower County Justice Center is closed to the general public, though there will be limited access for court-related business. Probation services will be delivered by phone. Pre-trial will also be conducted by phone. There will be no group activity and no in-house correctional programming. All jury trials currently underway will continue until the trial is complete. Depending on priority rating, some trials will proceed as scheduled and some will be suspended for 14 days. The Minnesota Judicial Branch has defined case priorities categories.

• The Extension Office is closed to the public. All 4-H activities and Extension meetings are cancelled.

• The Public Works Office is closed to the public. Zoning permits and land use applications will be handled through the phone and email (zoning@co.mower.mn.us).  Feedlot payments should be paid by check through the mail or feedlot operators can phone in credit card information. Feedlot registrations should be sent in via US mail or can be sent to valeries@co.mower.mn.us. The Hazardous Waste Facility and Recycling Center is closed and there will be no curbside and no drop off county wide.

The board approved an amendment that allows for the advancement of up to 80 hours (10 days) of sick time to any employee who has exhausted their sick time and paid time off. This would only apply to employees receiving no other form of compensation and only during a public health emergency. County Administrator Trish Harren noted that any federal legislation passed regarding sick time would supersede the county’s policy.

Because of the need for some employees to call in to work, the board approved a revision to the county cell phone policy that would allow department heads to determine if employees are eligible for county cell phones. The commissioners plan to revisit the idea at a later date.

Harren said that the county is preparing to stop in-person inmate visitation at the Mower County Jail. Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik said Reliance Telephone System, whom the county currently contracts with, is working to change language in its current agreement with the county to allow for remote visitation. For it to work, the visitor would have to install the system on his/her home computer or cell phone. Sandvik said the system would come at no additional cost and would be a great way to alleviate traffic in the jail lobby. The board voted in favor of approving the contract once it is finished.

Remote visitation will be available during normal visiting hours of 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday and Friday. To schedule, contact Reliance Telephone at 800-896-3201. Friends and family can also visit www.reliancetelephone.com for more information.

Sandvik also reported that efforts are being made to reduce the jail population during the pandemic. He said that corrections staff have moved up sentencing dates to allow inmates to be turned over to the Minnesota Department of Corrections and that he has asked the judges to consider granting temporary furlough for well-behaved inmates currently serving jail sentences for low level crimes.

Sandvik said they have run into difficulty with juvenile offenders because the Many Rivers Juvenile Detention Center is only accepting offenders from Olmsted County to reduce the facility’s population. This has resulted in efforts to make room for more serious juvenile offenders, including possibly keeping them in interview rooms at the jail in an effort to keep them sight and sound separated from the adult inmates.

The board voted to give Sandvik the authority to close the Mower County Justice Center for all but the most serious cases should community spread (not travel-related) of COVID-19 occur.

Mower County Health and Human Services Director Lisa Kocer reported that her office is urging individuals in need of services to call first to try and resolve the business over the phone and limit possible exposure. She also reported that COVID-19 testing supplies were low and health officials have been prioritizing testing.

The March 24 Board of Commissioners meeting will be held as scheduled. Members of the public wishing to attend in person, call 507-437-9549 for building access. All other public meetings, advisory boards, and commissions are canceled until April 6.