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COVID-19 HITS HOME

Council meets virtually

 

Jamie Stewart | The Shafter Press

Mayor Gilbert Alvarado calls the City Council's virtual meeting to order. Also pictured is Brittney Neal-Soberanis, project manager/analyst for the city, who helped conduct the meeting.

The coronavirus crisis dominated the discussion at a special City Council Tuesday night, with members of the public listening in by telephone or watching and listening on their computers.

Items on the agenda were the threat to public services by the COVID-19 pandemic and also talks regarding labor negotiations between the city and several departments.

City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez informed the council and the residents listening in that he and his staff will be working on a budget stabilization plan that will work to minimize the damage that is being done by the pandemic. Gonzalez said that they are going to look at the different public services provided by the city and examine them.

"There are three types of service, which are mandated services, core services and discretionary services. Services that are mandatory are services such as water, trash, etc." he explained.

Gonzalez was not specific on what services were considered discretionary or "wants and feel-good" services. These will be looked at and will be deemed either necessary to continue this year or stay suspended and be included in next year's budget.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, there were several concerns voiced about the lack of urgency shown by a number of residents regarding the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week.

Mary Ramon Arellano Garza was concerned about the number of people being seen gathering in different places, not adhering to the recommended limit of 10 people gathered in one place.

Gonzalez answered the question by explaining to the residents that the order by Newsom was a recommendation order and depends on public pressure in helping residents comply.

"Our Shafter Police Department, when it does not conflict with their normal duties, will remind residents who have gathered in excess of the 10 person limit that there is an order in place that discourages the gathering of more than 10 people. This is not an order that is being enforced, other than public pressure."

Gonzalez also said that the Chamber of Commerce is sending out postcards to businesses in town reminding them that the state has advised all nonessential businesses to stop operations where more than 10 people would gather.

Gonzalez said that he understands the concern about those who have not taken the order as seriously as others, especially with the increase in cases of the virus in what is being called "the Valley" are by the Kern County Public Health Department. "Just a couple of weeks ago, we had zero cases in the Valley area and now we are at 16 cases," citing the number of people tsting positive for the virus in the 11-Zip code area.

On the subject of budgets, Gonzalez suggested the council and his staff hold a meeting to start the planning phase for the city's budget for 2020-2021. "We will either hold a workshop remotely, such as this meeting using Zoom, or we may use a venue such as the Shafter Veterans Hall, where we can spread out enough to abide by the social distancing policy that is in place."

 

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