PIERRE, S.D. — Mayor Steve Harding on March 24 said he does not plan to issue any orders or ordinances beyond what state and federal officials are recommending to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a news release issued about 3 p.m., Tuesday, Harding said “at this time, I do not plan to enact ordinance that is any more restrictive than those guidelines provided by Governor (Kristi) Noem.”
Other mayors throughout South Dakota have taken different approaches. Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken cited the proximity of Beadle County to Minnehaha County in calling for many businesses to close their doors. With its county seat of Huron, Beadle County reports 13 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday.
TenHaken said he was recommending to the city health board to close “non-essential businesses, a decision that would shutter much of Sioux Falls,” the Argus Leader reported. TenHaken was scheduled to meet with city health officials about the idea, which he said is not mandated by the state.
In Huron this week, at joint meeting of the Huron City Commission and Beadle County Commission, the city and county each passed an ordinance and resolution closing recreational facilities, halting dine-in service at all restaurants and bars and banning gatherings of 10 or more people socially or at a business beginning Monday,” the Mitchell Daily Republic reported.
Local leaders cited the fact that Huron was the site of the state’s first case of “community spread” of the COVID-19 virus in announcing the new rules.
“We’ve had this ready to go,” Huron City Commissioner Mark Robish told The Daily Republic. “You don’t ever want to pull that trigger on the businesses, but when it comes down to public safety, you have to.”
Harding said Pierre’s civic leaders continue to “recommend all citizens, businesses, and non-profits comply with (federal) Centers for Disease Control recommendations and those directives echoed in Gov. Noem’s executive order regarding COVID-19.”
Noem issued the order on Monday, March 23.
Harding said in his news release on Tuesday: “My guidance, specifically for an enclosed retail business that promotes public gatherings like a bar, restaurant, brewery, cafe, casino, coffee shop, recreational or athletic facility, health club, or entertainment venue is to follow the directive issued by Governor Noem yesterday.”
Meanwhile, at the City Commission’s regular weekly meeting Tuesday evening, Harding pointed out the new official arrangement of officials around the half-round table.
“We are practicing social distancing,” he said, mostly to those watching on Oahe-TV’s live broadcast that is available at later times, too, on Channel 8 in the Midco line-up on local cable.
A new little table was put up near one end of the Commission’s wooden horseshoe desk, where Finance Officer Twila Hight and City Attorney Lindsey Riter-Rapp took up new abode.
That gave the five Commission members plus City Administrator Kristi Honeywell room to spread out around the arc of their common desk, with more space between each of them.
Meanwhile, Utilities Director Brad Palmer sat in the far back corner of the room, two chairs or so from the next person, the police officer on security duty for the meeting.
No members of the public were present, except for the Rev. Joseph Holzhauser of Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic parish, there for the opening prayer. And two reporters.
But Harding said city business will continue on, as close to normal as possible, but with some changes.
“As city employees, we still have to operate,” Harding said. “Basically, we are all essential employees. We have to keep the city running.”
Especially, of course, the police and fire departments and the water and electric utilities, Harding said, speaking to the TV audience. “Those things have to continue . . . and we will continue to provide those services for you. City Hall remains open.”
No city employees have been laid off or put on furloughs, he told the Capital Journal.
But the city is taking a look at it budget, including items and equipment that already were slated to be bought, Harding said. The downturn in the economy affecting many businesses, such as car dealerships and restaurants and hotels, will have a direct effect on city coffers, according to Harding.
“I am anticipating a reduction in sales tax revenues,” he said.
While the city is in solid financial shape, its operational budgets will not be fed by as much sales tax revenue in the current pandemic atmosphere, he said.
“As a city, we will get through this together,” he said.
Commissioner Jamie Huizenga said later at the meeting that SkyWest Airlines flying as United Express, has cut it flights from Denver to Pierre. He suggested anyone traveling call in to SkyWest about 24 hours before a flight to see if its been canceled. For the past year, it’s been providing a dozen round trips per week, upped to 13 in late 2019. For the past week or so, many days have seen only one flight, part of the airline industry taking a big economic hit in the pandemic, Huizenga said.
After the commission meeting, Harding told the Capital Journal he does not expect any change in the city’s plans to begin construction this year on the new $37 million water treatment plant or on a new outdoor swimming pool park complex this fall.
“The money is all in place,” he said of the water treatment plant construction, which will be financed by a low-interest loan from the state, paid back over 30 years through water rates, which already have been increased.
On Tuesday, the Commission in a routine vote approved first reading of a plan to borrow $15.3 million from the state for improvements to the city’s waste water treatment plant.
Tuesday’s vote set a public hearing for 5:45 p.m., March 31 in City Hall for the project that would borrow the money at 2.25 percent over 20 years, with the likelihood the state’s Board of Water and Natural Resources may forgive all or part of the loan principal, according to city officials.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Harding read aloud his news release about following Noem’s executive order on COVID-19:
Suspend or modify business practices as recommended by Centers of Disease Control and Prevention guidance that involves 10 or more people to be in an enclosed space where physical separation of at least 6 feet is not possible.
Continue offering or consider offering business models that do not involve public gatherings, including takeout, delivery, drive-through, curb-side service, off-site services, social distancing models, or other innovative business practices that do not involve public gatherings in an enclosed space.
Consider business arrangements and innovative ideas intended to support the critical infrastructure sectors, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security.”
It’s already having a big effect, say owners of local businesses in Pierre.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses’ Research Center’s latest survey on the current impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on small business “offers a stark contrast from the survey released 10 days ago,” according to an NFIB news release Tuesday. “The magnitude of disruption now on the small business sector is profound.”
A survey found that 76% of small businesses are negatively impacted by the outbreak of the coronavirus, a dramatic escalation from just under one-quarter of small businesses reporting the same earlier this month. About 5% are positively impacted.
Grocery stores, for example, are seeing higher than normal sales.
These firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods and services. This will presumably ease in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels.
About 20% of small businesses are not currently affected by the outbreak, but 77% of them anticipate that changing if the outbreak spreads to or spreads more broadly in their immediate area over the next three months. This marks a sharp departure from the earlier survey in which 43% of small businesses anticipated being impacted if the virus spread. Just 4% do not believe they will be impacted if the outbreak escalates and 18% are not sure.
Of those businesses negatively impacted, 23% are experiencing supply chain disruptions; 54% report slower sales; and 9% have sick employees. The 9% of owners citing sick employees likely responded out of heightened concern and precautions with sick employees showing some signs of cold or flu-like symptoms, but not necessarily because they have employees who have tested positive for the virus.
“This public health crisis is also an economic crisis that is creating unprecedented hurdles for our small business. As government responds to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is critically important that small business owners and their employees have the right programs in place so they can address the hardships they face trying to keep their doors open,” said Lindsey Riter-Rapp in the news release. She is Pierre’s city attorney who was at Tuesday’s commission meeting and is NFIB’s state director.
Owner of a general contracting firm in Pierre, Jedrey Baumann is trying to keep giving all of his 65 employees a paycheck but wonders how long he’ll be able to continue doing that, according to the NFIB news release. Right now, the general contractor has suspended many of his 18 work sites across three states. One shut down because the school closed, while another stopped because his superintendent is under quarantine after a gas station worker in the remote area tested positive for the coronavirus. Baumann said his employees are scared, and he is concerned not only about their physical health but also their mental health as the crisis continues.
Baumann has applied for a Small Business Administration disaster loan but doubts that will be enough. He gets increasingly frustrated as he watches members of Congress bicker about the possible $2 trillion stimulus package.
“Small business owners and their employers need money right now. While I don’t want to go to the government with my hands out, they need to do something to keep their country afloat. All I’m asking for is a loan with a reasonable interest rate I can pay back over a long period of time. If they wait too long – it’s going to be too late,” said Baumann, according to the NFIB.
Almost all small business owners are taking some sort of action adjusting to their changing economic condition or to protect themselves from potential disruption. Just 6% of owners have not taken any action in response to the outbreak, a market departure from more than half (52%) not taking action two weeks ago.
The level of concern among small business owners about the coronavirus impacting their business has elevated significantly during the past two weeks. About 68% of small business owners are “very” concerned about its potential impact on their business compared to 16% in the earlier survey. Another 23% are somewhat concerned and 9% are slightly concerned. Just 1% are not at all concerned.
While many small businesses (47%) have not talked with their bank about financing needs, 30% are planning to do so soon, the NFIB reports.
Meanwhile in Pierre, Harding is asking residents and businesses to persevere.
“I know that many of our businesses and other organizations have already taken steps to come in line with those guidelines. I want to personally thank those businesses for respecting the wishes of government leaders and thereby helping to keep our community safe and healthy. We all understand these are hard decisions and a hardship for our business community,” Harding said.
“For individual citizens, please continue personal responsibility and avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more people. I also encourage you to continue practicing social distancing and remember to wash hands and to stay home when you’re not feeling well.”
“This is a difficult time for all of us. It’s important that we continue to support each other,” Harding added. “That means supporting our local businesses, taking care of our personal health, and checking in on neighbors, friends and family. This situation remains dynamic and the city will continue to reevaluate processes and adapt as the situation evolves.”