FERGUS FALLS -- Members of the news media and others who usually attend Otter Tail County board meetings in person used another method from home on Friday afternoon, March 20.

Commissioners held a special emergency board meeting in response to coronavirus (COVID-19). They gave the media and county residents the opportunity to observe the meeting at home by accessing the online GoToMeeting video conferencing system on a home computer.

The use of GoToMeeting was "to ensure social distancing and accommodate the public’s access to the meeting," according to a county news release. "The full board participated in the meeting as well as county staff and members of the public."

The county board, in the wake of COVID-19, approved the use of telephone and other electronic means as allowed under Minnesota statutes for public hearings that are essential for health, safety and commerce.

“In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency declared by Gov. Walz, other public hearings will also be held remotely via GoToMeeting,” County Board Chairman Lee Rogness said.

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The county board passed a resolution saying that public testimony regarding certain applications will only be received by email, in writing or by participating in remote public hearings.

The five members of the county board again gave their support to health care providers and first responders who are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. Of special concern is the number of intensive care units in Otter Tail County, County Human Services Director Deb Sjostrom said her employees are not making face to face visits but are still providing needed services.

“Foster care providers around the county are doing the best they can,” said Sjostrom to commissioners.

County Community Development Director Amy Baldwin said county employees are keeping in direct communications with businesses adversely affected by COVID-19 and will provide resources as much as possible. Her department will also assist county residents who apply for unemployment insurance through the state of Minnesota.

Some county businesses face the problem of paying property taxes but with little if any revenue in previous weeks. Commissioners plan to address this issue in future meetings.

Emergency rental assistance was an issue addressed at the special meeting of the county board0.

Access to the county courthouse south of downtown Fergus Falls, and to the adjoining sheriff’s office and county jail, will be limited due to public safety issues.

County Public Works Director Rick West said highway maintenance garages are fully staffed around the county, and office workers are working from home.

Next meeting

The next Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners meeting will be 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 24, via GoToMeeting. Visit ottertailcountymn.us for the agenda and GoToMeeting instructions and call-in information.

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