The Geauga County Commissioners declared a countywide state of emergency on Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 epidemic. The board, however, stressed that the declaration is purely fiscal.

County Administrator Gerald Morgan said this is in response to a change in advice from the state for access to funds that may be available to counties because of the novel coronavirus causing hundreds of people to get sick.

“We had been told that because the state declared [an emergency] for the entire state, we were OK and we didn’t have to do the declaration in order to get funds from FEMA,” Mr. Morgan said of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “As of this weekend, they’ve changed that and said that each county would have to do their own [declaration].”

He explained that the change became necessary after Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect Monday at 11:59 p.m. He said the declaration allows the county to submit to FEMA any additional costs the county incurs as a result of the state actions during the current health crisis for the potential to get reimbursed.

By declaring a state of emergency, the county also waives the bid process normally required for purchases of more than $50,000, so long as the cost is less than $100,000 and the county receives at least three quotes, Mr. Morgan said.

Commissioner Timothy Lennon, board chairman, said it also gives Mr. Morgan authority to make decisions in the event the board “can’t convene in a quick enough fashion.”

Geauga County Department of Emergency Services Director Roger Peterson echoed Mr. Morgan’s emphasis that the declaration is strictly administrative.

“It doesn’t change our response, it doesn’t change our outlook, it’s just purely a fiscal event,” Mr. Peterson said.

Also in response to COVID-19, the board agreed to indefinitely postpone the March 31 meeting to err on the side of caution and accommodate social distancing and Gov. DeWine’s stay-at-home order.

Mr. Morgan said the board decided to hold the week’s session after Gov. DeWine’s order so commissioners could combine it with action that would have been taken next week.

Mr. Lennon said the board should keep the situation flexible and only meet for an emergency or special meeting when necessary. “There’s no need in our day-to-day business congregating like this,” he said.

Commissioner Clerk Christine Blair said the board is required to have a public notice no less than 15 minutes prior to an emergency meeting and no less than 24 hours prior to a regular or special meeting.

Under the board’s regular business, the commissioners approved several bids and payments for county departments.

For the Geauga County Engineer’s Office, the board approved the payment of $387,783 to Aero-Mark Company, LLC, for various road repairs throughout the county. The board also awarded a $716,296-bid to Lake Erie Construction Company for guardrail replacement throughout the county. Finally, the board approved the usage of municipal road funds for the Goodwin Avenue improvement project in Burton Village in the amount of $200,000.

For the Geauga County Department of Water Resources, the commissioners approved two service contracts with Hannon Electric Company for three-year periods, including a $15,000-contract ($5,000 per year) for motor and blower services and repairs within the department, along with a $96,000-contract ($32,000 per year) for programming services for the McFarland Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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