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City Hall closed to public; Council passes emergency ordinance

As part of efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the City of Milton will close City Hall to the general public effective Monday -- the same day the City Council passed an emergency ordinance that extends for the next 30 days.

There will also be no further access to Milton's Police headquarters and Fire stations as well as City Hall, meaning all City buildings will be closed to the general public. The City has previously announced that there will be no Milton Municipal Court sessions in the coming weeks, in addition to calling off meetings, programs, and facility rentals due to COVID-19.

"The public's health and safety -- including that of City employees -- is our foremost priority," said Milton Mayor Joe Lockwood. "We don't want to put anyone at unnecessary risk.

"Still, even if City buildings are closed, that doesn't mean City operations are closed. We will continue to serve Milton residents, providing them with the services they need and deserve, as best we can."

The 30-day time range for these closures and cancellations aligns with the emergency ordinance approved Monday night by the City Council. In accordance with the City's charter, the ordinance aims to "provide for the operation of the City of Milton during the public emergency." Among other elements, this ordinance states that "all matters requiring a public hearing ... are hereby stayed for 30 days."

"We take our responsibilities to the citizens of Milton very seriously, including the need to be as transparent and clear as possible," said Lockwood. "That is why the Council approved this emergency ordinance: to legally document actions we want to undertake to slow the spread of this coronavirus."

Any permits that lapse during this time "remain in full force," according to the ordinance.

City committees and boards are now "suspended for 30 days" or until the ordinance is terminated. The one group that can meet in that time is the City Council, but only on matters directly pertaining to the novel coronavirus and other public health and safety issues. Citizens are "strongly encouraged" to watch Council meetings online rather than come in person.

"Public safety is our top priority," said the Mayor. "And as much as we value the people's input, we cannot in good conscience hold public hearings or other events if there's a chance they will put someone at risk."

At Monday's Council meeting, Ken Jarrard -- a lawyer for the City -- noted "this situation is evolving on an hourly basis," calling it "an extraordinary time."

"We're simply reacting as best we can to protect our citizens and do the people's business," Jarrard said.

Initially, the City announced closures and cancellations through April 12. All those - in athletic programs, events, and the like - will now extend a few more days, City leaders will continuously evaluate the situation, and these plans may change at any time.

For the latest on the City's response to COVID-19, please monitor the City's webpage dedicated to the topic (https://www.cityofmiltonga.us/coronavirus), as well as the City of Milton's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/thecityofmiltonga/) and Twitter feed (https://twitter.com/cityofmiltonga).

Monday's decisions align with guidance from the CDC and other government agencies promoting "social distancing" -- the idea that interactions should be limited in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. This plays into that notion that everyone can play a part in "flattening the curve," so the number of coronavirus cases in Georgia levels out until the threat dissipates.

"Being proactive can save lives. That's why we are taking these extraordinary steps, doing our part to get ahead of this virus," said Lockwood. "We believe that acting now - as challenging as it may be -- is in our best interests for the long-term."

Even with buildings closed to the public, City employees throughout government will continue to serve our citizens in myriad ways. There will still be inspections and permits issued, for instance. The Public Works Department will maintain right of way and tackle other projects. Police officers will continue to patrol Milton, working diligently to keep the City safe for all. And members of the Milton Fire-Rescue Department will keep responding to calls for fires and medical emergencies.

And citizens can still interact with, and be served by, City employees - even those who work remotely. People are encouraged to use the City's website, https://www.cityofmiltonga.us, to get more information, including who to contact for specific matters. Individual departments like Police, Fire, and Finance have already, or may soon, release information specific to their operations on the City's social media and websites.

If you do not know who to contact and cannot find the information you are looking for, you can call 678-242-2500 or email info@cityofmiltonga.us.

"We are here to serve," Lockwood said of the City's government. "That won't change."

The City has made numerous changes in recent days, and more are likely. These adjustments aim to balance our charge to balance our citizens' and employees' safety while providing the best service possible. For example, the deadline for Occupational Tax Certificate (a.k.a. business license) renewals has been extended to April 30 from its original March 31 date.

The City of Milton greatly appreciates the public's understanding, patience and assistance as it navigates this unique, challenging period.

"To the residents of Milton: We will get through this," said Lockwood. "Once this emergency passes, Milton's government will be back even more open, effective and stronger than ever. In the meantime, you should have faith that - emergency or not - we're still here to serve you."