City-area COVID-19 update: Shaw’s taking steps; towns eye no late fees, email list

“You need to have a command and control center.” — Panton selectboard Chairman Howard Hall

VERGENNES — At an online Vergennes-area Regional COVID-19 Meeting on Tuesday morning officials heard that the Ferrisburgh Shaw’s Supermarket has taken steps to protect customers and employees.
They also worked to pool local municipal and nonprofit email lists to better reach residents and discussed easing late fees on payments for property taxes and dog licenses.
Officials from Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Addison Northwest School District, city and county nonprofits, and Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes, were among the 18 attendees at a meeting hosted by Vergennes City Manager Dan Hofman.
Hofman and Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz reported that Shaw’s had established seniors-only (age 60-plus), hours of 7 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and in addition had installed plastic shields at checkout counters and floor markings to enforce distance between customers in line. The supermarket is also limiting the number of customers who can enter the store.
Ferrisburgh selectboard Chairwoman Jessica James said she had heard some stores, including the North Ferrisburgh Short Stop, were no longer accepting cash.
That discussion led to Panton selectboard Chairman Howard Hall’s suggestion that email lists be pooled to better get out news to local residents, and that Hofman ultimately receive the list and send out agreed-upon messages.
“This could be instant information,” Hall said, adding, “You need to have a command and control center.”
That list could absorb email lists from Panton, Ferrisburgh, Vergennes, Vergennes Partnership, Vergennes Opera House and Bixby Library, according to meeting attendees. Vergennes Partnership representative Julie Basol will help manage the list.
The topic of late fees on property taxes and dog licenses drew agreement. Dog licenses are due on April 1, and while tax payment dates vary, Ferrisburgh’s next installment due date is June 1.
Officials across the board said they would try to offer some leeway with fees for late payments given the economic hardship many residents are facing, with town boards of civil authority making final decisions in some cases.
“We’re just going to work with people and make sure we’re doing the best we can for our community,” James said.
In other business, the group:
• Heard from Fritz, also the chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes board, that the club’s daily meals delivery count has grown from 133 in its first day last week to 213 on Tuesday. Deliveries to families with young children have been stable, he said, while demand from seniors has increased.
Fritz said so far there have been enough volunteer drivers, most deliveries have been in Vergennes, and there has not been an overlap with Meals on Wheels.
• Heard from ANWSD Superintendent Sheila Soule that the first couple days of the district’s home learning program have been well received by families. “I’m really encouraged by all the support we’re getting from the community,” Soule said.
The school’s meal delivery program is also going well, she said, and the district is working with local licensed providers to meet its obligation to provide for childcare for its employees who are deemed essential by the state. That’s a preferable approach to the district providing care, Soule said, because many of those providers have lost income during the crisis.
• Heard that a trailer donated by the Ferrisburgh Fire Department is in place at the Vergennes Police station to be used as an emergency food shelf.
• Were told by Hofman that city fire and police chiefs have been frustrated in their search for hand sanitizer to protect their department members. “Both of our chiefs have been searching throughout the state,” he said. UPDATE: On Wednesday Hofman emailed that he had found a New Hampshire firm from which to order hand sanitizer. 
• Heard from Birong that legislators expected a major budget crunch because of the current crisis. He said municipal leaders would keep him informed on local needs so he could “carry their water in Montpelier.”
• Were told by Bixby Library Interim Head Librarian Maddy Willwerth the library is now “closed completely.”

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