The Bellevue City Council voted unanimously Monday to declare a disaster emergency to open up a channel for federal funding in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
The council then postponed several agenda items to later dates and decided to forgo the purchase of a needed piece of equipment due to threats posed by the coronavirus on the local economy.
By declaring a public health emergency, as have the other cities in the Wood River Valley, the city of Bellevue has obtained access to all applicable federal, state and county emergency resources.
“We closed the parks down yesterday,” Community Development Director Diane Shay said.
Shay said she has been on daily coronavirus update calls with other cities in the valley, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and St. Luke’s.
“It’s a good forum to bounce things off each other,” she said.
The council took part in an extended discussion Monday by teleconference with Public Works Director Frank Suwanrit, who sought $35,000 for a vacuum trailer (equipped with a valve exerciser) for use in cleaning and maintaining more than 250 water valves across town.
Suwanrit said the purchase would save on labor costs, reduce injuries and reduce the number of valve replacements needed in the city water system, which will soon transition to water metering after a five-year metering installation project.
“This would make the $1.2 million in infrastructure in the ground last a whole lot longer,” he said.
City Councilman Chris Johnson supported the expense, saying it was a good deal, and necessary.
“I understand we have a tight budget,” Johnson said. “But if we don’t do this, we’ll regret it.”
But the rest of the council and City Clerk Marian Edwards opposed the purchase due to potential economic impacts due to the coronavirus.
“I am opposed to this, given the very dicey situation the city will be in if many people lose their jobs in the city,” said City Council Chairwoman Kathryn Goldman.
City Councilman Shaun Mahoney, who was on the council following the 2008 financial crisis, also expressed opposition.
“Let’s wait a month,” Mahoney said. “As a small-business owner, I’m hoping we can hold on for two months. During the recession we were living on fumes.”
The City Council also postponed discussion of a report on street conditions and a public hearing on a proposed change to city code that would allow administrative approval of temporary road closures, until at least May 26.
Mayor Ned Burns said the “good news” is that the ground around Bellevue is thawed, and current snowpack depths indicate that the risk of spring flooding is minimal.