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Fairmont City Hall adapts, services continue

FAIRMONT — The doors are locked at Fairmont City Hall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the city definitely remains open for business.

City staff has been adjusting to working from their homes, using technology like phone calls and emails to do their jobs as best they can, but they are quick to praise the other members of the community, from health care workers to grocery store employees, who are on the front lines every day.

As Troy Nemmers, city engineer/public works director, said, “There’s plenty of other sectors that are doing way more than we are right now. We just keep the water and sewer and the lights on.”

Mark Sievert, the city’s interim administrator, spends a couple days a week at Fairmont City Hall. Otherwise, he works from his Rochester home, using technology to stay in touch.

“It can be rather inconvenient not having interaction with employees in the office,” he said. “I supervise and lead people. That isn’t always easy without access and contact with others. Most employees, at least at City Hall, prefer to work on-site.”

Working from home brings fewer interruptions, but it can be challenging when needed files aren’t always accessible or you don’t have access to a multi-functional commercial printer.

“Given the state we’re in, we all do our best,” Sievert said. “Be patient, but by all means, call or send us an email. We are still available to help and will do everything we can to do so.”

The availability of digital documents has enabled Nemmers to do most of his work from home, but lack of access to all the engineering project folders stored at City Hall creates a conundrum and requires a trip to his office.

Three engineering technicians also are working from home as much as possible, but with contractors looking to start up new projects or finish ones from last year, a crew has been doing construction staking when needed.

Building officials and planning and zoning staff are available to answer questions and process permits. Contractors are still required to contact City Hall or a building official for their regular project inspections.

The street, parks, water, wastewater and electric line departments are working varied shifts to reduce the potential for large group exposures, but they still continue to provide all basic city services, Nemmers said.

“I think, in general, all city staff are available to answer questions or assist the residents,” he said. “My request to residents is that everyone take this situation very seriously. The better we are at social distancing, hand washing and staying home, the sooner we can get past these unprecedented times.”

The city’s finance director, Paul Hoye, says it’s business as usual for the city even though the way that business is now done is unusual, following Gov. Tim Walz’s “stay at home” order.

“We have not suspended any city services during this time, and we are getting more efficient with this new work environment each day,” Hoye said. “This has definitely forced us to think about the services that we provide and how we provide those services.”

For the safety of city staff and the general public, Hoye recommends that people who have been making payments through the city’s drop box consider making those payment through the city’s website, www.fairmont.org, or call City Hall at (507) 238-9461 and make the payment over the phone.

Nick Lardy, street and parks superintendent, plans to try working from home next week, a change from his office in the public works building on Margaret Street.

“Hopefully it goes smoothly, but I still will be available to visit problems and areas of concern if required, trying to keep six feet away from everyone, of course,” Lardy said.

Staff in his departments have been focusing on preparing the city for upcoming warmer weather.

“They are getting as much done as possible such as street sweeping, lake navigation items, docks, sign repairs and building maintenance,” he said.

Linsey Preuss, Fairmont’s economic development coordinator, checks her office voice messages and emails frequently while she is working from home during this time of confusion and perplexity for businesses.

“With the (federal) CARES Act just being approved this last weekend, not all programs are ready to go yet,” Preuss said. “The state agencies are working to sift through the 880-page document, and we should have more direction next week.”

She recommends businesses seeking resources to visit www.fedamn.com and click on the COVID-19 icon.

“This is a really, really challenging time for our small businesses,” she said. “I encourage everyone to support our small businesses through the purchase of gift cards, ordering take out or even sharing their information on social media. Every little bit helps, and we are going to get through this, together.”

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