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Social distancing practices blessing in disguise

POMEROY-Teleconferencing, the Courthouse drop box and courtroom sound system have become valuable tools in continuing the workings of County business with the public during the pandemic closures. During the May 11 Garfield County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, Commissioner Justin Dixon announced the board will continue with teleconferences each Monday morning through the end of May. Even though the courthouse may re-open its doors once approved to move into Phase 3 of the Governor’s Safe Start recovery plan as early as June 1, they may continue to offer teleconferencing to the public to limit the number of people physically occupying the Commissioners’ chambers at the courthouse.

The County has also continued doing business with the public by utilizing an outside drop box. It has become a valuable tool, allowing people who have difficulty getting to the courthouse during regular business hours the ability to call ahead and communicate with staff, then leave necessary materials in the box. Through this realization that the drop box could continue to benefit the public, the County has now arranged for a permanent, secure drop box to be installed at the front of the courthouse, out of sight from the street, where it won’t detract from the historical look of the building. The cost for the new drop box is estimated at $122 for the box, and $105 for the post, which they believe could be reimbursed through COVID-19 funds.

The new courtroom sound system may also be paid for through COVID-19 funds. The new system will include, among other new features, the ability to video conference between the jail and the courtroom, in order to practice safe social distancing whenever possible. Because the new system was not included in the 2020 budget for the County, it qualifies as an expense covered under COVID-19 funds.

A new Indigent Defense contract is being negotiated with attorney Julie Karl, whose current contract with Garfield County has expired. Karl is requesting a 40% increase in her monthly salary, from $2,531 per month, to $3613 per month. In addition, she also has the right to charge extra for any case she spends over 10 hours to complete.

Under the expired contract, she was allowed to charge $75 per extra hour, although she never was required to spend that extra time. She has asked for an increase to $150 per extra hour under the new contract. Karl also serves as an Indigent Defense attorney for Columbia County.

According to Commissioner Wynne McCabe, Karl feels she has been under paid under the expired contract. As a comparison, McCabe stated that Asotin County pays $5,000 per month for indigent defense counsel, and that $150 per hour is an appropriate rate for attorneys. The County has offered to grant her request, but would like to make the increase in the monthly rate on a gradual basis, such as paying an additional $344 each month until January 1, 2021, and additional increases in the same amount each year over the next two years. The decision has not yet been finalized.

The Gould City Phase 4 contractors, Scarsella Brothers, are back to work on the road construction project. An agreement was made on how to fix issues at the site, which centered around the moisture level of the topsoil at that location. They will be replacing some of the topsoil with fresh topsoil, and have agreed on a method to use to accomplish it.

The next meeting of the County Commissioners will be Monday, May 18, 2020. At that meeting, bids for the Fairgrounds Hay, and Courtroom Sound System will be opened at 9:30 a.m.

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