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In April, Myerstown’s Borough Council met outside in a parking lot and kept about 20 feet of distance between each other.
“We had been debating how to handle the meeting,” said Michael McKenna, Myerstown’s borough manager. “A lot of other municipalities have had meetings by video conferencing, but not all our members have experience with that type of technology and at least one has no computer, so we weren’t confident in what we could do.”
It was imperative that council meet, McKenna said, because bills had to be paid and other business, such as the disaster declaration, had to be addressed.
On March 27, Myerstown’s Mayor Gloria R. Ebling proclaimed a declaration of disaster emergency. That declaration was ratified by council on April 14, and will continue through the duration of the state’s declaration.
On a webinar presented by the state’s Borough Association, instructions were given on how to manage a meeting in a parking lot, and that, McKenna said, turned out to be a good idea.
“We know how dangerous it is to be in an enclosed space, and we have seven council members, the mayor, staff—possibly more than ten people,” McKenna said. “Keeping our employees safe is very important. Some are older, and some have pre-existing conditions.
“So they came, they wore masks, and we parked with a few parking spaces between us,” McKenna said. “They stood outside of their cars and everybody could hear each other.”
The outdoor meeting took place outside of the Myerstown Community Center, the usual meeting location. Myerstown’s municipal building is closed, and the four staff members are working from home.
If anyone must come into the office, McKenna said, they rotate times, so that only one person is in the office at a time.
The four employees of the Public Works Department and the four operators of the Wastewater Treatment Facility began working in weekly rotating shifts—two people at a time, practicing social distancing, and disinfecting surfaces regularly.
“We’re doing our best and as local government, we have to follow the rules
given to us by the state,” McKenna said.
Read more: Municipalities across county adjusting to “new normal” of coronavirus shutdowns
In North Londonderry Township, Mike Booth, township manager, said everybody is doing the best they can, and some creative ideas have helped.
“We’re taking it week by week,” Booth said. “We’ve adjusted.”
North Londonderry’s well-utilized compost and mulch business for its residents has evolved so it can continue.
Before the COVID-related restrictions were in place, residents would come into the township office to pay for mulch, then drive to the designated area to pick it up.
Since the office is closed, residents go directly to the compost piles, where masked township employees are in big loaders, away from the people, Booth said.
Envelopes to be used for payment are at the site, and after being picked up by the purchaser, are taken to a mail slot.
“So there’s no contact or very little,” Booth said. “It works so well that we might even put it into practice next year; it’s the way we’ve adjusted and it works for us.”
The compost pile is big business especially right now, Booth said, as so many people are home and working in their gardens.
North Londonderry’s annual “shredder” event has been postponed, however.
Each year, the township engages a huge shredding machine and offers the free shredding service to residents of both North and South Londonderry townships, and the Palmyra School District.
“A lot of folks appreciate that service, so we didn’t want to cancel it. Instead, we’ve postponed it and moved it to the fall,” Booth said.
The township’s recreation association has cancelled all sports practices and any athletic or social events for the time being.
Keeping North Londonderry’s wastewater treatment plant and pumping station has required staff to deal with creative scheduling.
“Those are critical infrastructures that we need to monitor and maintain,”
Booth said, explaining that staff are doing one week on, one week off and keeping their distance from each other while at the plants.
North Londonderry’s municipal office is closed to the public, and staff have the capabilities to be able to work from home, Booth said.
“Surprisingly, we’re adjusting,” Booth said. “I have daily conversations with at least one of our supervisors and things are getting done—they’re just getting done differently.”
The annual Memorial Day parade held in Annville has been cancelled for this year.
Read More: Annual Annville Memorial Day Parade will be ‘quiet memorial’ this year
“The Memorial Day parade is such an important event for the county that the [township] commissioners issued a proclamation asking citizens to continue to honor the memory of those who served,” said Nick Yingst, Annville Township administrator. “The Memorial Day Committee feels strongly about that.”
The well-attended Old Annville Days, sponsored by Friends of Old Annville and held each year in June, has also been cancelled. And even tire recycling in Annville Township, a service of the Lebanon County Conservation District, has been cancelled.
Read More: Historic Old Annville Day cancelled due to coronavirus, will return in 2021
Annville’s township office has been closed to the public since March, with communications through email or voice mail, and a drop-box for payments. All meetings are held remotely.
“We haven’t laid off anyone, instead we’ve organized our employees into different shifts,” Yingst said. “We took those steps so we wouldn’t lose staff. We’re using preventive measures and so far, everyone is healthy.”
Any change in policy to ease restrictions is not currently realistic, but change will come eventually, Yingst said.
“We’re having those conversations, and our responses will probably be the same as other municipalities,” Yingst said. “For now, we’re still under stay-at-home orders.
“I think everybody is doing their best to make it through this and Annville is no different,” Yingst said. “We’re all in the same boat, even if we do things in slightly different ways.”
In Palmyra Borough, it’s pretty much business as usual, according to Township Manager Roger Powl. While the township building is closed to the public, five office staff are still at work and maintaining social distancing.
“We’re fortunate because we have a fairly new building,” Powl said. “We moved in 2014 and our service counter has glass and speakers separating us, so it’s pretty isolated and that’s been a help.”
Palmyra’s municipal building also houses District Justice Carl Garver’s court, which is also temporarily closed. Palmyra Borough has six public works employees and ten police officers, including the chief of police, and no one had to be laid off or had mandatory schedule changes, Powl said.
“We’re kind of maintaining things as much as usual,” Powl said. “We’re working for the public and we felt it was important to be there for them.”
While Palmyra’s Borough Council meets twice a month, the last meeting in March and the first meeting of April were cancelled. Now borough officials conduct meetings by Zoom.
“We paid for the webinar version of Zoom and that has worked out for us,” Powl said.
Council President Beth Shearer conducts the meetings from inside the borough hall while Palmyra’s Mayor Fred Carpenter and council members remain in their homes.
So far, a few public events have been cancelled, including Palmyra’s Memorial Day parade and the annual “Truck Trek” food and craft event, held each May.
Unfortunately, Powl said, a good many of the smaller Palmyra businesses are currently closed due to the statewide restrictions. To the east of Palmyra, a Lowe’s and a Walmart remain open for necessities and many of the borough’s restaurants are already take-out oriented, Powl said.
Even making do as well as they can, life is still different, Powl said.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see the old normal again,” Powl said. “But we are adapting, and I guess that’s good because if the next one comes along, we’ll be better prepared for it.”
Read all of LebTown’s COVID-19 coverage here.
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