HONESDALE, PA — In the wake of emergency declarations from the state and the county on March 16, Honesdale Borough councilors struggled to decide how they ought to respond to the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
For the foreseeable future, public meetings will be carried out via telephone conference, borough hall will be closed to the public starting Wednesday, March 18 but borough employees will be reachable by phone or email, and parking enforcement officers will not monitor parking on Main Street but will be working inside borough hall. The borough did not declare its own state of emergency, something other municipalities have done to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.
With no debate, the councilors unanimously passed a motion to carry out public meetings via telephone conference. The resolution requires the borough to provide notice of the change on its website as well as instructions for members of the public who want to participate in the meeting. The teleconference meetings will also be recorded and made available to the public afterward. Councilor Jim Jennings, in an effort to maintain social distancing, joined Monday night's meeting via telephone.
Borough secretary Judith Poltanis then requested that the councilors restrict foot-traffic in Honesdale’s borough hall—which is normally open to the public for a portion of the day Monday through Friday—and to take the parking enforcement officers off Main Street. In light of Gov. Wolf urging all non-essential PA businesses to close for the next two weeks, Poltanis said that there will probably not be many people parking in town anyway.
The councilors all agreed that it would be a good idea to lock the doors to borough hall and have administrative and zoning employees available to the public by phone and email only. However, councilors Jim Brennan and Mike Augello felt that the parking enforcement officers should still monitor cars on Main Street and write parking tickets during this time. Augello noted that the governor’s order for non-essential businesses to close was not going to be enforced, so it’s possible that many of the stores on Main Street are going to remain open.
“I hate to say this, but probably town will be about normal,” Augello said.
“Those parking meter girls, they’re in danger because they’re coming in contact with all sorts of people,” said Sandy Degroat, one of the few attendees from the public. “They’re more in danger than anybody in here.” To that, Augello said, “Not really.”
Councilor Jim Jennings and Poltanis maintained that the parking enforcement officers should not go out to write tickets during this outbreak. Since the officers must go in and out of borough hall to work, Jennings said, having them continue to work on Main Street would defeat the purpose of the previous motion to keep the building locked.
“Erring on the side of caution,” councilor Jared Newbon made a motion to close off borough hall to the public—with employees reachable by phone and email—and for the town’s parking enforcement officers to work inside borough hall, not out on Main Street. The motion passed 5-1, with only Augello voting “no.” The resolution is set to go into effect on Wednesday, March 18.
Earlier in the meeting, Augello, who disagreed with the decision to relieve parking officers of their standard duties, had brought up concerns about how parking affects his Main Street business, Music & Video Express.
“One of the banes of my life” is that downtown tenants, business owners and employees “park on Main Street all day long,” Augello said. Specifically, he said that employees at businesses on the same block as him park in front of his store for the entire day. He asked the other councilors to consider using an electronic parking enforcement software company called AIMS, which would cost about $13,000 per year. He said that it’s not feasible to expect the parking enforcement officers to be able to keep track of all the cars in town that exceed the two-hour time limit.
“Parking on Main Street and the key side streets here is vitally important to businesses—including my own, I fully admit it,” Augello said.
At the end of the meeting, Jim Jennings asked whether the borough council should take any further measures to reinforce the governor’s request that all non-essential businesses close for the next two weeks. The rest of the council said no.
“I don’t think we as a borough—I don’t think any council member here, especially myself and some others who have local businesses—wish to further destroy the lives of [local business owners] myself included,” Augello said. “If the borough does get coronavirus… that’s another story… but I don’t see the borough at this point taking a draconian measure.”