Port Townsend declares state of emergency

City looking to help businesses, public

PORT TOWNSEND — The city has declared a state of emergency amid the new coronavirus outbreak to ease the process of accessing emergency funds and services.

City Manager John Mauro told the City Council on Monday night that it will “dispense with time-consuming procedures and formalities prescribed by law” in emergency situations.

A fourth Jefferson County resident, a man in his 60s, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation, Dr. Tom Locke, the county’s health officer, said Tuesday.

“The situation is changing daily, sometimes even hourly. Because the city requires agility to cope with the emergent health crisis, the mayor and city manager declared an emergency in the City of Port Townsend on [Friday],” the summary said.

The statement notes previous actions at the state and Jefferson County levels and that the city will follow suit.

The city will have a special meeting with county and other government officials at 5 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to discuss how to help people during the crisis.

As of Monday, City Hall, administrative offices and the public works department were open, but the Port Townsend Public Library and Mountain View Pool will remain closed through April 24.

Mauro said the city is considering how it can provide relief for local businesses and the public, and Mayor Michelle Sandoval also has been working on how to support the local economy.

One suggestion came in a letter from Mark Grant, the president of Grant Steel Buildings and Concrete Systems Inc. of Port Townsend, who said property taxes and utility taxes could be exempt for 30 days and landlords should forgive rent for business owners who otherwise might be forced to close.

“While the federal government has passed some mitigation measures, they’re typically for business owners and they are in the form of loans,” Sandoval said.

“What I’ve asked is that we open up our brain in terms of how we can assist people through utilities, through asking the PUD those same things so all of those things that were put forward by Mark Grant.”

Deputy Mayor David Faber concurred with Sandoval and proposed the city should follow Seattle’s lead in calling on landlords to waive April rent for both businesses and individuals.

“One of the considerations in place, I saw Seattle is putting a moratorium on residential evictions,” Faber said. “I don’t know if we should look into a commercial and residential eviction moratorium at this point in time.

“I also think we should be calling on landlords to waive April rent across the board, or at least in situations where a business is affected and unable to be open in the space.”

Sandoval said that will be part of an upcoming discussion with the Economic Development Committee.

She was concerned a large spread of the virus could change the culture in Port Townsend, which is just beginning its festival season.

“What David Timmons, our former city manager, used to say is, ‘We’ll survive the crisis. It’s afterwards, and how are we going to be able to mitigate that?’” Sandoval said.

“I think that is absolutely spot-on in this instance because I think the community will be different after this, and what I hope is that we can save as many businesses as we can, as well as our nonprofits, because they create the culture of this town.”

Mauro said city staff members are being told to go home or stay home if they are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and the city is working on a policy to accommodate employees who need advanced sick leave or other personal situations.

“There are more things were going to need to do,” Mauro said. “This is just the first onset of changes we’re going to need to make, and we’re going to need to continuously evaluate and be quite agile about how we adapt to this.”

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Jefferson County reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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