PALMER TWP., Pa. – Palmer Township is preparing to operate during the pandemic with a plan that changes as needed and recognizes that some government rules may be dropped temporarily.
"We're building this airplane as we fly it," was how Township Manager Robert Williams described the process Tuesday night before the Palmer Township Board of Supervisors met.
The meeting illustrated how quickly municipal government operations are changing in Palmer and across the U.S. The supervisors usually meet in a large room at the township library, but the library closed two weeks ago.
On Tuesday, they gathered in a conference room at the municipal building next door. No members of the public attended, and seats were spaced out in keeping with social distancing.
At the side of the room lay tools and equipment, as renovations proceed to add video technology so Palmer can hold teleconferences in place of some meetings. Some township administrators and Supervisor Ann-Marie Panella attended the meeting by phone.
Board Chairman David Colver signed an emergency declaration that recognizes the need to act "without regard to those time-consuming procedures and formalities normally prescribed by law" if necessary. Colver, K. Michael Mitchell, Jeffrey Young, Robert E. Smith and Panella voted unanimously for the declaration.
Fire Commissioner Stephen Gallagher will coordinate the emergency response. The declaration gives Williams flexibility in purchasing, hiring and entering into contracts without delays.
Township Assistant Manager Brenda DeGerolamo said so far, no township residents have been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.
Police Chief Larry Palmer said that his 38-member police force is sanitizing vehicles and offices to protect the public and officers.
"If we get hit hard (by the virus), we will work with the surrounding agencies for back-up," he said. He said regional forces already help each other, and Northampton County District Attorney Terry Houck has set up a formal mutual aid agreement for local and state police.
Police activity has been slow as most people stay home and many workplaces are closed.
"Call volume is down about 50-60%," Chief Palmer estimated. He said with fewer drivers, car accidents are also down.
Palmer accepted bids for road materials and equipment rental, and awarded a bid to Charles Chrin Cos. for concrete work.
The supervisors also approved the sale of $15,096 of used vehicles and equipment via Municibid, an eBay-like service for governments. The sales started at $50 for a compressor, along with $1,300 for a 2010 Ford Crown Victoria, up to the top price of $5,009 for a 1999 GMC truck with plow.