It was a busy week for Forsyth County Commissioners, as the officials had two meetings via video conference where they discussed pay and benefits for employees amid the COVID-19 outbreak, a future playground at Poole's Mill Park and temporary changes to the sign code for local businesses, among other items.
All items approved by commissioners at Tuesday's work session and Thursday's regular meeting were approved by a 5-0 vote unless otherwise noted.
After previously extending employee pay to all employees at their regular salary from Monday, March 30 through Sunday, April 26 and allowing employees to take as much time off needed without costing them PTO, commissioners approved, on a time-sensitive basis, extending the timeline to at least Sunday, May 10.
The compensation change was allowed under the recently approved federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
As part of the policy, department heads are maximizing the number of employees who can work from home or a safe location and must spread work between employees who stay home and those who cannot.
Employees will be required to clock in and out and will need to contact managers daily for work assignments.
After May 10, commissioners will make decisions on future pay periods at upcoming meetings.
At both meetings, commissioners discussed a potential policy for employees who are likely to come into contact with the public, such as first-responders, have to go into private homes to do work and have to work in positions where social distancing is not possible.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard proposed an additional $500 per month to those that were in contact with the public and $250 for the other two categories.
The pay would be retroactive to March 19 and would extend 90 days from then.
“It has to be based on criteria, not department, I think. Department doesn't really give you a feel for what they do and what exposure they might have or might not have,” said Chairwoman Laura Semanson. “Like I said, not knowing what certain people's job might actually involve just because we don't encounter them, we don't want to miss somebody who really does qualify for that under that criteria.”
Commissioners did not come to a decision at either meeting, and commissioners will likely hold a special called meeting to discuss the policy.
As businesses have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, commissioners approved allowing businesses to use more signs than would normally be allowed under the county's rules.
Semanson had previously signed an order to allow the temporary signs and Tuesday's decision further ratified that.
“As you have probably now seen, as we put this ordinance into actual work, the benefit of having this sort of flexibility is it allows the chair to issue orders as these issues come up and are typically being brought to her either by emergency management personnel or staff and just help was to help ameliorate and mitigate the impact of this on the community,” Jarrard said.
Jarrard said businesses could add up to four new temporary signs.
“It's not foreign, I'm sure, to any of you that businesses are struggling right now and businesses, uniquely restaurants, retail, et cetera, need to be able to communicate to the public to say, 'Hey, I'm open, Hey, carry out is fine. Hey, curbside is fine. Hey, here are our new hours,'" Jarrard said.
The rules change will last until the local emergency is done.
“We want people to be able to navigate who's open, who's not and there may be different ways that people are doing business,” Semanson said. “I think for most of the restaurants, at least, they're doing business differently, so for them to be able to communicate, especially if they're off the road a little bit or if they're in a strip mall and you can't tell what's easily open or not, they can put out a banner, they can put out some additional signs at the roadside, out of the right of way of course,”
Commissioners said they had heard of a business getting warnings about putting up signs but none had been cited.
Poole's Mill playground
Families will have a new reason to head to Poole's Mill Park after commissioners approved a time-sensitive bid for design and installation of a new playground.
The bid was awarded to Great Southern Recreation for $210,000, which will include removing the park's existing playground.
“We're very excited about this because this is also very friendly for the special-needs children as well, and... Great Southern Recreation worked with us maintaining the budget and adding in the special needs equipment with the playground, so we're very excited about this,” said District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, who represents the area.
Cooper said the improvements will also include a wheelchair-accessible table and benches covered by an awning.
The playground will be the first in the county that features a synthetic turf.
“It'll be very similar to what we have with the rubberized [surfaces], it will just be green and grass-looking,” Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor said.
Asked whether the surface would be hot to the touch in summer, Pryor said that was a concern for all materials but the playground was under trees.
Pryor said the playground should be installed by mid-June.
During Tuesday's meeting, commissioners approved the purchase of two properties for future park projects.
On a time-sensitive basis, commissioners approved purchasing three acres of a 10.3-acre property for $450,000, according to Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt, at 1625 Canton Highway. The property is adjacent to land currently owned by the county that is planned to be used as a future trail head for the Big Creek Greenway.
Merritt said the owner would also be donating about 4.5 acres to the county.
Following an executive session in the same meeting, commissioners also approved the purchase of 2.6 acres on Burruss Mill Road for $142,000. The land will be used for the renovation and expansion of Bennett Park, Merritt said.