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Forsyth County could soon be rolling back some of its pandemic emergency measures
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

Forsyth County leaders are now considering rolling back some of the emergency measures, rules and exemptions that county commissioners enacted earlier in the year in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Director of Emergency Management Chris Grimes, along with County Attorney Ken Jarrard, shared recommendations for what could be removed from the county’s pandemic resolution at a Board of Commissioners meeting last week.

“Over the past few weeks, we have, as you know and as you’ve watched the numbers, seen a decline in [COVID-19] cases,” Grimes said. “Currently, in the last two weeks in Forsyth County, we’ve had 212 cases of COVID-19. From our peak, that is down considerably from the peak we saw about two weeks after the Fourth of July.”

With around 84 cases per 100,000 residents in the county, Grimes and Jarrard started to discuss changes to the emergency resolution with other staff members.

Some of their recommendations included rolling back the suspension of fines and penalties for late utility payments, the temporary suspension of local purchasing policies, the waivers on penalties for late payment of occupation taxes and the temporary signage allowance for businesses.

Jarrard agreed that the county should give residents and business owners a window, maybe until Nov. 9, to return back to some of these proposed changes.

The Board of Commissioners also discussed possibly requiring alcohol sales permits again starting in November. Jarrard noted that if they add this requirement back into county regulations, they could face a few problems.

“If we’re going to tell the regulated community that come Nov. 9, we expect their servers to have permits again, there is going to be some machinery that we’re going to have to rev up to do that,” Jarrard said. “A lot of folks are going to be coming in seeking those permits. If we do that, but then we’re going to strip it out of the code again, it’s going to be a whole lot of work and it sends mixed signals.”

Despite these worries, Jarrard and Grimes recommended that the county “go back to business as usual” and start requiring the permits again.

Commission chairwoman Laura Semanson said that she believes that the permit requirement may not be necessary in the future as she said it just brings further infractions against business’ licenses and makes it more difficult to quickly staff businesses.

“If they serve underage, one way or the other, they’ve broken the law,” Semanson said. “So, I don’t know that it adds anything other than we’re just trying to be nannies and requiring them to get a permit and saying this is what we expect you to know. They’re expected to know that you don’t serve underage.”

Jarrard and board members leaned more toward bringing the permit requirement back. Without required permits, the county can only regulate license holders, not their employees and restaurant servers. The removal of the requirement could force further stress onto local business owners.

Either way, many board members agreed that they should continue to allow restaurants to serve to-go alcohol with curbside and pickup orders. Grimes mentioned that many restaurants are still not completely back to where they were before the pandemic in dine-in sales, and he said many local owners still appreciate having the ability to make to-go sales.

The board also spoke about their own meetings, agreeing that they should make the choice to go back to in-person work sessions. Since the start of the pandemic, the board has been holding work sessions through Zoom and holding regular meetings in person with a remote option for members of the public.

The commissioners are beginning to discuss also rolling back the remote option for regular meetings, but they are still unsure of their future meeting plans. While the board agreed that they would prefer to require in-person meetings, there are still limitations to how many people they can allow into the space to accommodate for social distancing measures.

District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills also spoke about technical issues withing in the Zoning Board of Appeals. While the board’s meetings are in-person, members of the public have been speaking in front of the board through Zoom, and the board has had “significant challenges with technology in the last two months, culminating in postponement of a majority of the agenda items for October and November.”

One resident who gave a public comment during the BOC meeting said that he has been waiting for months to get permission to build a pool in his backyard after already spending thousands of dollars on the project because his hearing keeps getting postponed.

“We’ve had enough practice and we’ve put a lot of money into it, and we still can’t get it right?”  Mills asked. “And this man’s been trying to build a pool — it’s embarrassing.”

Board members spoke about some possible solutions to the issue, but they have not come to a definite decision yet. 

The commissioners plan to continue their discussion on the Pandemic Resolution and any changes that they may make during their work session on Oct. 13 and upcoming meeting on Oct. 22.