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Meriden, Southington, Cheshire scale back town hall operations, no change in Wallingford

Meriden, Southington, Cheshire scale back town hall operations, no change in Wallingford



reporter photo

Officials in Meriden and Southington announced plans Monday to reduce the operations of municipal government in response to the coronavirus.

Meriden City Hall is slated to be open to the public 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through March 31 or longer, City Manager Tim Coon said in a statement.

The public can use online and mail-in payments, and specific questions concerning services may be answered by calling or emailing department members from contact information listed on the city website.

Coon announced at Monday night’s City Council meeting that Meriden is canceling all municipal meeting beginning Tuesday.

Coon said the city is working to build an "infrastructure that allows us to conduct meetings remotely” and meet criteria in Gov. Ned Lamont's executive order allowing municipalities to hold meetings without the public present. Chief among those requirements is allowing the public to watch or listen in real time by telephone, video or other technology.  

The city's Information Technology Department is working with an outside contractor, and Coon is hopeful it will be ready to use by next week. The meeting's canceled this week will be rescheduled for a later date, he said.

In Southington, Town Hall is slated to close to the public Thursday except for meetings “by appointment for essential services only,” according to a statement from Town Manager Mark Sciota’s office.

As in Meriden, the public is encouraged to call or email staff as needed.

Lara Nichols, Sciota’s executive assistant, said staff members are setting up drop boxes for building permits and payments at the Municipal Center and taxes at Town Hall.

The closures come as municipalities restrict access to municipal buildings beyond schools.

Cheshire led the way, announcing Sunday that as of Monday Town Hall would operate by appointment for essential services only.

Other town governments are forging ahead.

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said Monday that he has no plans to close or scale back operations at Town Hall.

“Government is one of those essential services in the community,” he said. “People need to know we are functioning, and people who are in need of government assistance or help, we’re here.”

Meetings

Several municipal board and commission meetings have already been canceled. Going forward, some towns may block public attendance and utilize live broadcasting of town meetings instead.

Coon, Meriden’s city manager, said the City Council meeting scheduled for Monday evening was going forward as planned.

“We’ll be able to discuss what we’re doing going forward with the council,” he said, adding that he’s considering using online streaming technology to broadcast  meetings.

With the municipal budget process underway, timelines for public hearings may change, he said.

“It’s all being decided shortly,” he said.

As for other Meriden municipal buildings, the library closed Monday and the senior center is slated to close Wednesday, with a lunch delivery service available for seniors in need, Mayor Kevin Scarpati said.

‘Critical decisions’

It’s unclear what path Southington will take on meetings. Sciota, the town manager, was out of the office Monday.

Arnett Talbot, Cheshire’s assistant town manager, said Monday that meetings of town boards and commissions have been canceled this week, but that future meetings “at which critical decisions need to be made” may be live streamed.

“With Facebook and Skype, we’re hoping there won’t be a significant cost,” Talbot said, “and we’ll be able to get it going rather quickly.”

Several town buildings in Cheshire, including the library and senior center, have closed.

In Wallingford, Dickinson said that there’s been “no determination not to hold meetings” of town boards and commissions as scheduled, though “that could change,” he said.

He’s also not planning on limiting public access to meetings.

Dickinson said that he’s still meeting with town department heads as scheduled as he creates his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The Wallingford Town Council is scheduled to hold a series of public workshops and hearings in April and May before voting on a finalized budget May 12.

Those meetings are still going forward, Dickinson said.

“We don’t have a lot of people attending those meetings,” he said. “It’s not clear to me why we wouldn’t hold meetings as we customarily would."

The Wallingford Public Library and Wallingford Senior Center have closed, but Dickinson said those were decisions by the respective agencies’ boards of directors, not a directive from his office.

Despite the fact that some town services will still be available for now, Coon said that anyone with a fever or cough should not come into a municipal building, and should call a physician or the Hartford Healthcare COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-621-0600.

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores


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