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Effort to opt out early on mask mandate fails

Staff writer

Although commissioner Kent Becker wanted to kill the county’s mask mandate early, his proposal ultimately got voted down at Monday’s county commission meeting.

Becker contended that the number of COVID-19 cases is dropping and that the governor’s existing mask mandate will expire April 1 unless it is extended.

Commissioner Randy Dallke wasn’t keen on the idea of canceling the mandate. Dallke noted mask mandates have been canceled in some places and COVID cases are now rising.

“If we do this, watch out,” Dallke said.

County health administrator Diedre Serene offered her advice after commissioner David Crofoot said he wanted her called for her opinion.

Serene told commissioners the governor said she probably will reissue the mask mandate and it will remain in place until it is rescinded by the legislature or until the state of emergency is canceled.

“I want you to be cautious because I don’t think as many are being tested,” Serene said. “If we get just one case, our positivity rates could go up.”

Serene said 12% of county residents have been vaccinated against the virus, far less than the 50 to 80% needed to reach herd immunity.

“We’re still a long way from achieving this in Marion County,” Serene said. “I just don’t think we have enough total vaccinated to let our guard down.”

Serene said county schools have said it’s easier for them to impose mask requirements if the county or cities requires masks.

“I would rather keep the mandate on to help the businesses,” Crofoot said. “If the county takes it off and the store owner tries to get people to wear masks, customers are going to be mad.”

Becker asked how many people wear masks in public.

Crofoot answered that when he goes to the grocery store he sees about 80% of customers wearing masks.

“I mean out in public,” Becker said. “What are you guys thinking, we have a mask mandate on until we have herd immunity? We may never have herd immunity,” Becker said.

“Why wouldn’t we listen to our health department leadership? It’s what we hired them to do,” Crofoot said. “It’s just common sense.”

“If it’s common sense, that’s the individual’s responsibility,” Becker said.

Serene said if the decision is left to individuals and the COVID rate goes up, it would have been easier to have kept the mandate in place than to make a new mandate.

Serene said statistics can be interpreted in any way someone wants, but she thinks masks help.

Marion’s city mandate runs through June 30. Hillsboro dropped its mandate March 23, but one councilman said if the governor reinstates the order, he wants to reinstate Hillsboro’s order.

Commissioner Jonah Gehring moved to opt out of the state mask mandate as of today, but the motion failed on a 3-2 vote with Dallke, Crofoot, and commissioner David Mueller opposed.

“Three nos, two yays. It does not pass,” Dallke said.

Commissioners reviewed a proposal from Cody Nelson, owner of NF Construction. NF Construction is the same company that built the county’s transfer station.

The estimate is to build a 50- x 80-feet ambulance facility in Hillsboro.

The $188,200 estimated price tag for the building adds $8,200 for a payment and performance bond.

Dallke had qualms. A year ago the estimated cost commissioners discussed was $100,000, Dallke said, and the new estimation is nearly $200,000.

“I think we’re spending a lot of money here,” Dallke said.

Mueller said the project should be done despite the higher estimation.

“From my position it’s something that has to be done now,” Mueller said. “If we go into a 30-year-old building, what will it cost in the future for repairs that will be needed?”

Mueller said he thinks the county will eventually look back and realize they made a good decision.

Crofoot said he believed that with the construction company being local, the county will be treated right.

Nelson said he expected to be ready to begin the project in about 35 days.

Commissioners voted unanimously to proceed.

In other business, commissioners signed a new contract with a firm that provides consultant services for the county planning and zoning department.

Baughman Company will get $125 per hour, a $25 raise over the rate paid in 2020.

Planning and zoning director Sharon Omstead said that in 2020, the planning and zoning department used the consultant more than it typically would have because of meetings and legal skirmishes over Expedition Wind Farm.

“We are in the process of an appeal that they may have to make some sort of statements for,” Omstead said.

Last modified April 1, 2021

 

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