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Helena City Commission extends state of emergency over coronavirus

Posted at 8:51 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 00:23:33-04

HELENA — The Helena City Commission has indefinitely extended a state of emergency over the coronavirus – during an unusual commission meeting impacted by the outbreak.

For the first time, the commission held their regular Monday meeting entirely over online video conferencing. Each member appeared by video from a different location, as did city staff members. Members of the public were also allowed to take part in the conference.

“Welcome, everyone, and I want to thank you for understanding and participating in this new meeting platform,” said Mayor Wilmot Collins.

Collins initially declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak last week. However, it was set to expire after 10 days unless the commission extended it.

City Attorney Thomas Jodoin said the state of emergency gave the city authority to enforce any curfews or quarantines, if public health leaders determine they’re necessary. It would also allow Interim City Manager Melinda Reed to make operational decisions related to the outbreak – including possibly putting some employees on leave or ordering them to work from home. Finally, it would give the city an option to ask for an emergency levy to cover expenditures related to the virus.

Reed, who started as interim city manager just two weeks ago, highlighted some of the steps the city has already taken in response to coronavirus. They included having most city employees work remotely or on altered schedules; suspending enforcement of parking fees, utility shutoffs and the city’s abandoned vehicle ordinance; and working with emergency responders to ensure they have personal protective equipment.

“It has been a very, very busy week, and I think that the city staff across the board has really done an amazing job,” Reed said.

You can find a full updated list of how Helena city services have been affected by coronavirus precautions on the city’s website.

The city commission was scheduled to consider Helena’s proposed new growth policy at Monday’s meeting, but they voted to delay that hearing to a later date.