Board waits to declare 'State of Emergency'

ESCANABA – Delta County hopes to gather more documentation on the impacts this winter’s cold weather has had before declaring a “State of Emergency.”

The Delta County Board of Commissioners agreed to place a letter on file from the City of Escanaba that requested the county declare a “State of Emergency,” during Tuesday’s board meeting; however, the board has decided to wait and continue to record documentation prior to making a declaration, as recommended by Delta County Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Berbohm.

Berbohm noted there have been severe financial impacts throughout the county due to water main breaks and water service, sewer line, and storm line freeze ups.

In recent weeks, a similar request by the Marquette County Board of Commissioners to declare a “State of Emergency” for help with frozen pipes was denied, according to a letter the county received from the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.

Marquette County was notified that although a governor’s declaration was requested, the events that have transpired to date pose no immediate threats to public health and safety, making a state declaration of emergency not warranted.

“We’ve been encouraging all parties to…document the damages,” explained Berbohm. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near the end of this situation. I think we’re actually early on, maybe approaching the middle, because the frost line has to come up yet and I think we’re going to see a much more severe damage.”

Because of this, counties across the Upper Peninsula are collecting as much data and documentation as possible, since according to Berbohm, the emergency management coordinator in Marquette County plans to head to Lansing on behalf of the entire Upper Peninsula Tuesday to seek some appropriations for acceptable damages.

“If everything was counted, the Upper Peninsula right now is at $981,289 in damages,” he said, which is well below the $13.7 million worth of damages that needs to be reached for Michigan to declare a “State of Emergency.”

“Right now, I believe we should just document and that seems to be the trend across the other counties,” said Berbohm, noting what is needed now is a more accurate picture of how many private individuals and businesses have been impacted.

The board also approved sending a letter back to the City of Escanaba stating at this time they are not going to declare a “State of Emergency” but are in support of their efforts.

The board also unanimously adopted a new employee handbook that addresses several policies and procedures, particularly equal opportunity, discrimination, harassment, the Family and Medical Leave Act, sexual harassment, and violence in the workplace, as well as a code of ethics.

“It’s something we should have had in the beginning,” commented Board Vice-Chair Mary Harrington. “We need to move forward and look at these things. This is the first step. You’ve got to start somewhere.”

Commissioner Dave Rivard also expressed his support for the document, making sure there were opportunities for the board to make additions to it as time goes on and that if a new policy is adopted, that it be added to the book.

He urged any employees or members of the public who have suggestions on what to include in the handbook, to contact a commissioner or Administrator Nora Viau.

During public comment, Christine Pepin, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2755, said she agrees with the board that an employee handbook is a necessary tool. However, she asked the board to consider taking measures to address concerns about hiring practices, particularly following the hiring of the administrator’s son for an open airport operations specialist position last year and the hiring of the assistant maintenance director.

“I applaud your efforts to create a guide for employees regarding proper behavior in the workplace,” she said. “I am sure you all spent a great deal of time working on it. I am hoping that you will give the same attention to your department heads to prevent the favoritism and unfair hiring practices that have been on-going in the county for years. I think we can all agree that it’s time for Delta County to truly be an Equal Opportunity Employer.”

Pepin also asked the board to consider bringing back the county’s six housekeeping and maintenance employees who were laid off in November, citing concerns over unshoveled sidewalks outside the courthouse and unlocked doors and lights turned off within the courthouse building.

“When we had our maintenance staff here, those sidewalks were cleared, those doors were opened, the lights were on,” she said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a dark building here.”

In other business, the board:

– ratified a contract with the county road patrol through Dec. 31, 2014. According to the county’s lawyer Terry Burkhart, some of the main terms of the agreement include: no wage increases, no change in health insurance, a $1,500 lump sum bonus payment not to be included for retirement, regularly-scheduled patrol officers to work seven 12-hour shifts in each two-week pay period for a total of 84 hours in a 14-day period, and the adoption of a drug abuse policy.

– approved drafting a letter of support for a walking/biking trail between Escanaba and Gladstone, which has been proposed by the City of Gladstone. The proposed trail would span approximately 2.25 miles beginning near the Terrace Bay Inn and following Lake Michigan shoreline into the city of Gladstone.

– approved a request from the Delta County Sheriff’s Department to increase funding to the building repair line item of their budget by $15,000, contingent upon if the funds are available within the general fund.

– approved a remodeling project in the front office area of the sheriff’s department using funds from the residual equity fund, not to exceed $40,000.

– approved the purchase of a new copier machine for the building & zoning department not to exceed $6,382.64 with funds from the capital outlay fund.