City does it best to deal with the virus outbreak
The theme of the city of Newberg's response to the coronavirus is simple: stay the course, shelter in place, continue to serve the public remotely if at all possible.
We checked in with Dan Weinheimer, sworn in as city manager a few short weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit locally, on Thursday to get an update on how the city is operating in light of this existential threat. He recounted that the city limited staff's interaction with the public gradually, first by closing the Public Safety Building, which houses the police department and dispatch center, on March 11. Other city buildings closed March 13 and city hall transitioned to an appointment-only system on March 16.
"We have tried to prioritize balancing continuing necessary business activity and preserving our most essential functions," Weinheimer said. "We have also been working to pivot our library offerings to digital and to collaborate with the school district on library content as they go to tele-school."
Reopening city facilities to the public, he said, will depend on the progress made to rid the city of the virus.
"We intend to work closely with Yamhill County Public Health and to observe orders issued by Gov. Brown," he said.
About half of the city's employees are telecommuting while the remainder continue to work in the field while observing recommended social distancing protocols. In addition, Weinheimer said, the city has begun more aggressively cleaning both facilities and vehicles and has begun assigning vehicles to specific individuals rather than groups to avoid transmission of the virus.
Newberg City Council meetings, for the time being, will be held online via the Zoom videoconferencing app, with a conference room in city hall set aside for members of the public who cannot access the meeting online from home.
"We are still learning the technology but are learning from other communities that have successfully held meetings on Zoom," Weinheimer said.
The city's measures have drawn few complaints from residents.
"Generally, the public has responded well to the measures taken by the city so far," he said. "I think it has helped that we have not closed our operations completely – that we have gone online or phone where possible."
He added that the city has concentrated on providing updated information via the coronavirus resource page on its website and via social media.
"The day-to-day evolution of this health crisis has meant a steady stream of messages and changes and the city has tried to provide verified information to the public," he said. "Obviously, it's a difficult time for everyone to know what to do."
Those needing to transact business can do so primarily on the city's website (www.newbergoregon.gov), but for those that must access service directly here are links to particular departments:
Newberg Public Library – No appointments but answering calls at 503-538-7323
Newberg-Dundee Police Department – non-emergency number 503-538-8321
Newberg Public Works: water/wastewater treatment plants: 503-537-1257; maintenance/streets/signs/underground pipes, 503-537-1234; emergency line: 503-538-8321.
Utility Billing: Customer service can be reached at 503-537-1205. Residents are encouraged to pay bills online or use the drop-box outside of the Public Safety Building.
So far the city is alone in responding to the virus pandemic locally.
"To date, we have not received any aid related to coronavirus," Weinheimer said. "We are working with community partners to try our best to help provide aid to the community at this time."
The city is also coordinating with some outside agencies in response to the health crisis.
"We are working closely with partner agencies," he said. "We are hosting weekly calls with partners in Newberg, with Yamhill County Public Health and other agencies. Those calls are primarily updates on resource needs and closures."
While recognizing the economic impact the virus has had on communities across the nation, the city's response has been limited for the time being.
"We encourage residents to pay for their utility use as normal and as mentioned there are options to do that from their home," Weinheimer said, adding that the city has suspended shutoffs of utilities for non-payment. "We are also reviewing late payment charges and would work with utility users who need additional time for payment due to a lost job of other loss of income."
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