Bar Harbor declares pandemic emergency: offices closed, meetings cancelled

BAR HARBOR — Offices in the municipal building and other town facilities are closed to the public and all non-emergency municipal meetings have been cancelled through March 30, following Town Council action Monday to declare a pandemic emergency.

In his role as director of disaster services under the town’s emergency management ordinance, and following an established pandemic plan, Town Manager Cornell Knight called a special meeting of the council and proposed an emergency ordinance.

The six councilors present at the Monday meeting unanimously approved the document, which is posted on the town’s website, with the addition of a suspension of cruise ship visits through April.

The council has the authority to take control measures to reduce the spread of the virus, under the emergency management ordinance. And the town charter gives the Town Council the authority to enact emergency ordinances “to meet a public emergency affecting life, health, property or the public peace.”

Fire Chief Matt Bartlett is another point person in the town’s emergency management system. He has been meeting regularly with a group that includes the local emergency medical services and MDI hospital, coordinating with local institutions and participating in a weekly teleconference with the Maine Center for Disease Control.

Residents are encouraged to monitor the town website along with those of MDI Hospital, the Hancock County Emergency Management Agency and state and federal CDC.

During the emergency, Councilor Gary Friedmann said, he wants to look for ways “the town can be making sure none of our citizens get left behind.” The MDI Housing Authority’s “homemaker” program, assisting residents with shopping and other tasks, and meal program are both continuing. Island Connections and other groups are also working to support vulnerable residents.

Also, under a town-declared state of emergency, certain consumer protections come into force, including a prohibition on price gouging.

The municipal building offices, highway garage grounds, wastewater plant, police station, fire station and harbormaster’s office are closed to the public.

“Staff will be working both from home and in the office,” Knight told the council.

“A rotating staff will process payments through a drop box set up in the main lobby and take calls,” the ordinance states. Residents are encouraged to make use of online services including vehicle registration renewals, payment of all Town of Bar Harbor bills including taxes, water, sewer, parking tickets and ambulance charges.

The planning and code staff will continue with permitting and inspections, but the Planning Board and Design Review Board will not meet. Deadlines for applications and permitting will be suspended.

The council meeting planned for this Tuesday had a packed agenda, including a recommendation from the Cruise Ship Committee on dealing with the virus and a possible emergency moratorium on new vacation rental registrations.

Were the council meeting to go ahead, a large group would gather in the council chambers, violating social distancing guidelines, Knight said. Councilors discussed whether the meeting could be physically closed to the public but televised, and comment could be accepted online, but it’s not clear how that squares with state open meeting laws.

The Town Council will meet next on Tuesday, April 7, unless another emergency meeting is needed.

The closure also comes right in the middle of the annual budget review process, so the ordinance allows those deadlines specified in the town charter to be suspended.

“That gives you an extension so hopefully in April and May we can finish the budget process,” Knight said. That may mean some final budget information won’t be ready in time to include in the printed town report and would have to be handed out at Town Meeting instead.

Also on the agenda for the cancelled meeting was a final presentation from the Charter Commission, and the council was expected to place the charter change questions on the warrant for Town Meeting. Knight said it’s not yet clear whether the suspension of deadlines will also apply to that process, or whether the changes would need to be postponed to a November vote.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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