WATERVILLE — Governmental offices that have been closed to the public since last month because of COVID-19 are adjusting to the changes needed to operate and, in most cases, have been able to avoid furloughing or laying off employees.

Members of the municipal staff in Waterville, Fairfield, Winslow and Skowhegan said they are finding they can keep up with the workload, whether at the office or home.

Those at offices maintain recommended distances from one another, even if this means it takes a bit longer to accomplish certain tasks.

In Waterville, five people are still working full time at City Hall, while the rest of the 13 employees based there either work a half-day at City Hall and a half-day at home or rotate two or three full days a week in the office and work the rest of their hours from home.

City Hall is large enough that social distancing is not a problem.

The city continues to process new vehicle registrations, registration renewals, marriage licenses, birth certificates and property taxes, but instead of doing these in person, they are done by telephone, internet or U.S. mail, which takes a little longer, according to City Manager Michael Roy.

Waterville City Manager Mike Roy

“What is it that we can’t do?” Roy said Monday. “There isn’t anything. We can do everything we normally do — it just takes more time. Whether we intended to or not, we’re finding out that, with technology being the way it is, we’ve entered into a new era of being able to do things remotely. Those working in the town office have done a very, very good job at making sure that service is not interrupted.”

The city has not had to furlough or lay off employees, all of whom are still being paid, according to Roy.

“Things are going OK right now,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re missing providing what people need. I regret that we can’t have more open or available public meetings. I wish we were able to do that more than what we can, because that’s an important part of municipal life, obviously.”

Most employees from the Department of Public Works have been working a week on and the next week off, because they work in close proximity to one another, according to Roy.

“That may end in another week or so, to get us back to full time on personnel,” he said. “We don’t want to fall too far behind on work to be done.”

Residents are usually able to take their leaves and other lawn debris to the Public Works compound off Wentworth Court, but it has been closed because of the coronavirus. However, Roy said it will open this Wednesday.

Roy, city Finance Director Aaron Berls, Tax Collector Linda Cote, Health and Welfare Director Denise Murray and another employee in Murray’s department are the only city employees working full time — every day — at City Hall, Roy said.

Roy said he does not know when City Hall will reopen to the public and employees will again be at work full time.

“I don’t have a sense,” Roy said, “and it doesn’t seem to me to be as urgent because a good majority of them are doing everything they need to do from home.”

Matt Skehan, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, is continuing to work full time with two other employees, and seasonal employees will be brought in gradually to work at cemeteries, parks and athletic fields, Roy said. It has yet to be decided if the municipal pool on North Street will open this summer.

“I think it’s just too early to even start guessing,” Roy said.

The city has 110 employees, not including school employees, and Roy said he is proud of the way they have taken on the challenges of working in a changed environment. Many have figured out their own ways of staying connected, he said, and have been flexible and appreciative they are being paid.

Roy said he thinks the city can continue to function this way for an indefinite period if residents are willing to do vital processes by telephone, mail or internet.

“I really have not heard any complaints from people that they can’t get what they need,” Roy said. “I think people are being very patient and understanding.”

FAIRFIELD

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said Town Office employees are working different shifts to help reduce the threat of COVID-19.

“We have some folks working from home. Some folks don’t have the capability to work from home so some are working in the office,” Flewelling said by telephone Monday.

Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

“Normally, we’d have eight employees in the office at a time, but  I’m trying to maintain no more than four people. When employees are here, though, they’re in their own office and keeping to their own workspaces.

“The Public Works Department is still working, but they’re working a split shift. Half the staff works one week and half the staff works another, so one on, one off.” 

The Fairfield Public Works Department has 11 employees, including Director Bruce Williams.

Flewelling said employees who still come to the Town Office to work do not wear protective masks, but are following social distancing guidelines and wash their hands often.

Vehicle registrations and property taxes are being processed over the telephone or through the mail.

Layoffs and furloughs are not expected for town employees right now because of the town’s “healthy” undesignated fund balance, Flewelling said.

“We worked quite hard to get our undesignated fund balance to a healthy place,” she said, “so we have what we need to go forward for times like this.”

As for the future, Flewelling said she was focused on how to protect the community when things begin to open up.

“I’m concentrating on what it will look like when we reopen,” Flewelling said. “We have such close contact with the community, so we’re trying to make sure the public and our staff is protected.”

WINSLOW

Work has not slowed for Town Manager Michael Heavener, even with the Town Office closed to the public.

“For me, it’s business as usual: Still planning projects. It hasn’t slowed down,” Heavener said. “We’re still doing business as usual. We’re just trying to figure out how to do that safely.”  

Heavener said some Town Office employees are working from home, while others are rotating shifts to make sure only one person is in an area of the office at a time. 

Winslow Town Manager Mike Heavener

The Public Works Department had been rotating shifts, too, but the town now needs the entire crew to work at the same time for bigger projects, such as street sweeping for the spring, according to Heavener.

“Public Works was rotating,” Heavener said. “We’d split the crew in half and rotate them through, but we’re going to do some of the spring work, so we’re making arrangements to have everyone come in.

“But we’re staggering the lunchtimes and break times, staggering the start times so everyone isn’t getting in at the same time. We’re doing our best to avoid having people congregate and be in a group.” 

There are no plans to furlough or lay off town employees, according to Heavener.

SKOWHEGAN

Town Manager Christine Almand said typically these days there are about four employees at the Town Office, depending on what tasks are assigned each day. All department heads have the ability to work from home.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand

“We’re kind of staggering (employees in the office), and we are keeping good social distancing,” Almand said Monday. “We are trying to keep cleaning levels high and still trying to tend to all of our community’s needs.”

Almand said registrations and other municipal functions are still doable, but the processes of getting tasks done are different and can take more time.

For vehicle registrations, residents can call ahead to share their information. They then either mail their payments or leave them in the drop box at the Town Office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“It’s not as efficient,” Almand said. “It’s a little more complicated, but we can still accommodate most requests.”

As for employees, Almand said all are still being paid and furloughs or layoffs are not being considered at the moment.

“We still have to get into budget discussions and things like that,” Almand said. “Fortunately, the state law gives us an opportunity to push off some of the budget decisions for a while.

“We’re going to have to monitor our revenues and have some discussions on what next year’s budget should look like.”

Almand said a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year has been prepared, but she expects that the budget that is applied will be different than what has been proposed.

“There’s a lot to be looked at with the budget, both current and upcoming,” she said. “It’s really a little early to tell what it’s going to look like, but we’re not looking at layoffs or furloughs at the moment.”

Almand said it is unclear what the next steps will be as municipal officials await Gov. Janet Mills’ decision about her stay-at-home order.

“A lot of us are waiting for that decision to be made,” Almand said. “I think businesses are dealing with how to look towards opening back up, what the new normal will be and what steps to take to get there.”

Town facilities, including the transfer station, remain open, Almand said. While the buildings are closed, the recycling bins have been moved outside and the number of vehicles allowed into the facility at one time has been limited to allow for social distancing.

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