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County covers its bases

State of emergency declaration will ensure eligibility for federal, state assistance

LISBON — Columbiana County commissioners declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to ensure the county is eligible for any federal or state assistance made available in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“There’s nothing really new here except” it puts the county in a position to seek federal and state coronavirus assistance, said Commissioner Tim Weigle.

Commissioners were quick to point out there was no other reason for declaring a state of emergency, and their decision was not in response to any major change in circumstance regarding public health and safety in the county.

“This is not (meant) to induce panic” because nothing has changed in the past week that would warrant issuing the declaration now, said Commissioner Mike Halleck. “If there is money out there … we don’t want someone saying we’re not eligible” because commissioners failed to declare a state of emergency.

Commissioners said the declaration does not bestow any extraordinary powers on county government agencies and officeholders, and county Emergency Management Agency Director Peggy Clark agreed. “It’s a formality that we do it” because the statewide emergency declaration issued by Gov. Mike DeWine likely already makes counties eligible for assistance.

Weigle suggested they issue the declaration and he used some of the declarations issued by other counties as a template. The county becomes the 49th county to declare a state of emergency.

The meeting was conducted by video conferencing with just Weigle and Halleck present, with Commissioner Jim Hoppel participating remotely from his home. Hoppel is in his early 80s and had major heart surgery several years ago, and Halleck and Weigle encouraged him to stay home until the crisis passes.

Ohio Attorney General David Yost issued an opinion on March 13 to all government agencies saying public meetings could be conducted via video conferencing under state law because of the state of emergency declared by DeWine and the state health department directive limiting public and private gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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