Rio Arriba County Commissioners declared a local state of emergency March 27 due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
As of Tuesday evening, there are four cases of COVID-19 in the County, according to the Department of Health website.
Through the emergency declaration, the Commissioners authorized County Manager Tomas Campos to take all necessary actions regarding his employees that will allow the County government to continue serving residents during the crisis.
Those actions may include allowing use of electronic media in procurement processes, limiting the availability of certain County services, closing County buildings to the public, prohibiting interaction between County employees and the public, limiting hiring and non-essential expenditures to brace for the expected drop in revenue, altering hours of operation, allowing flexibility of time and location of work and making temporary alterations to the County personnel handbook.
County officials closed the Española County administrative complex to the public on March 29 and the Tierra Amarilla complex on Wednesday (4/1).
Staff will continue conducting County business by telephone and by email. Members of the public will be able to drop off documents and checks in drop boxes outside the office buildings. County officials ask that anyone who drops off a document or a payment follow up with a phone call.
Campos said that County employees will continue attending the offices and that they will need to use sick or annual leave if they choose to stay home.
To perform essential County functions, they need the office technology, he said.
“It’s hard, because when you come in to do recording, nobody can get that at home,” he said. “They’ve got to record it there at the office. The assessments, can’t do that from home, and you can’t take payments from home.”
County Clerk Linda Padilla said she has heard the County does not have the capability to allow employees to work from home. She gave employees in the Clerk’s office the option to use their leave and stay home but they have chosen to come into the office, she said.
When members of the public need paperwork and documents immediately, Padilla is instructing them to call the Clerk’s office and make an appointment to drop off their documents in the County drop box. A County employee is collecting the documents with gloves and then spraying them with Lysol.
The staff is not having any contact with the public, she said.
“I’m not putting my staff through that,” Padilla said.
County Assessor Levi Valdez said he is following County management and that some employees in the Assessor’s office are taking their leave to limit the number of employees in the office at once. Typically there are nine employees in the office and now there are five or six, he said.
He said technology in the office is necessary for completing tasks, but that the County needs to look into purchasing new equipment that would allow staff to work from home.
“In the future what the County really needs to do is start looking at all different scenarios and cases like this,” he said. “We need to be prepared and start planning for different computers that we could take home.”
The emergency declaration also cancels all non-essential County events set to occur on or before April 15, asks all places of private employment to take reasonable precautions, confirms County Fire Marshal Alfredo Montoya as the local coordinator of emergency management for the COVID-19 emergency and allows the County manager to authorize any available funds for the COVID-19 response.
Under the declaration, County officials are requesting financial assistance from New Mexico agencies, including the New Mexico State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and from federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Campos said in a Tuesday phone call that he will likely slow down spending from the County’s General Fund.
He has been pushing state officials to send the County more personal protective equipment and to share more information with County officials about where in the County the cases of COVID-19 are located, so that County officials have a sense of the spread of the virus throughout the County, he said.