At the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Health Officer Dean Kelaita, MD, announced that the state will now allow barbershops and hair salons to reopen in Calaveras County. Churches, dine-in restaurants and all retail stores have also been permitted to reopen in recent days.

“Now people can get their haircuts. Churches can resume in-person worship services at 25% of their building occupancy, up to 100 attendees,” he said. “Additional in-person services provided by religious organizations such as counseling services, (Alcoholics Anonymous) and other 12-step programs are also now allowable.”

Kelaita said that the reopenings will require safety measures.

“Specific infection control procedures, physical distancing guidelines and employee training requirements will also need to be implemented,” he said. “The public is still highly recommended and encouraged to wear face coverings when in public and near others.”

Kelaita said that additional guidelines for commercial and recreational activities will be released by the state later in the week.

At the request of District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills, the board discussed lifting the county’s declaration of a local health emergency enacted in March.

Mills said that he hoped to spark a discussion among the board, and that projections on the risk posed by the virus had been proven inaccurate.

“There is no justification for any lockdown where there is no health emergency in our county,” he said. “I do not see the justification that our local system will be overwhelmed. Therefore, there is no need to keep a local emergency in place.”

Office of Emergency Services Director John Osbourn said that canceling the declaration may impact the county’s ability to be reimbursed for its emergency spending during the pandemic.

“If we decided to terminate the local health emergency today, anything that we spend from today forward would unlikely be reimbursed by FEMA under the Public Assistance Program that we have applied for and been granted,” he said.

While District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi agreed with Mills “that it is time to move ahead” with reopening, he opposed rescinding the declaration.

“I believe that Calaveras deserves pragmatic leadership, and this is nothing more than a political statement,” he said. “We have to realize that we’re a small county, and we should never be poking someone in the eye – be it the federal government or the state government – when we’ve got our hand out.”

Kelaita said that local authorities were the first line of defense during emergencies.

“No counties in California have rescinded their local health emergencies,” he said. “I’ve yet to hear a medical or public health argument for why terminating the declaration of a local health emergency is a good idea in the middle of a pandemic.”

District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli and the other members of the board also opposed ending the declaration.

“We are under a state of emergency, and to rescind it at this time does not make any sense whatsoever,” Tofanelli said.

At the end of the meeting, the board received a presentation on the projected 2020-21 budget from County Administrative Officer Albert Alt and Christa VonLatta of the Administrative Office.

Alt recommended that the county maintain a relatively flat budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

“We do need to have some reductions,” he said. “We can handle them for the most part through reducing discretionary spending and being very cautionary about our hiring and what I would term a ‘hiring chill.’ But in general right now the data that we have for the revenues that have come in for the current year and as we project out don’t give us the same pause that you may be seeing in Tuolumne County or some of the other sister counties.”

VonLatta said that the general fund balance is expected to be at about $3 million at the end of the current fiscal year, down from about $6.5 million at the beginning of the fiscal year. She said that income from sales and use taxes is projected to decline by 25% during the 2020-21 fiscal year, compared to the budgeted amounts of last fiscal year. Income from Proposition 172 is also expected to drop by 25%, while income from the Transient Occupancy Tax is projected to decline by 50%.

The county expects to take in $1.1 million from Measure C, and about $2 million for Butte Fire disaster relief.

“Our overall budget message for fiscal year 2020-21 is to do a status quo budget with a 5.3% reduction to balance,” VonLatta said.

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Reporter

Noah Berner has lived in Calaveras County most of his life, and graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in history.

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