The City of Scottsbluff is trying to stay diligent and ahead of the game in providing services to its residents and up-to-date information about coronavirus guidance and tips.
A recent concern is people traveling to the Scottsbluff/Gering area from bordering states and other states that have seen a higher number of cases of COVID-19. Scottsbluff Interim City Manager Rick Kuckkahn urges that anyone who has traveled outside the Panhandle or who lives outside the state and is here to visit should self quarantine for 14 days to help prevent the spread within the community.
In addition to the governor’s office and Panhandle Public Health District, Scottsbluff has followed the lead of the school district in consultation with school superintendent Rick Myles. When the schools closed, the city closed the library and public buildings.
The city has canceled its annual Easter egg hunt at the Landers Soccer Complex. Kuckkahn said it has yet to be approved by the city council, but he expects the summer baseball and softball seasons will be canceled. Yard waste pickup has been pushed back to at least May 11 for pickup, and recycling pickup has been suspended. Kuckkahn said it is questionable whether Westmoor Pool will open this summer.
“The advice that we’re seeing from the health department or the folks that are familiar with this kind of stuff is that probably not until mid-July would be the earliest we could open,” Kuckkahn said. “My feeling there is that we really need to think seriously about not opening at all. We’d be open for just a couple or a few weeks and even then it’s very iffy. We’re ordering very expensive chemicals. We’ve got maintenance to do that takes a lot of time, and I don’t know if ‘nice-to-haves’ are the things we want to be distracted with right now.”
Financially, the city is in a good place. Kuckkahn said councils for years have built up reserves in funds to be able to weather situations such as this. The savings allows the city to be able to continue to provide the essential services.
“We’re paying our bills, that’s important,” Kuckkahn said. “We’ve got vendors out there who are stressed anyway, so we’re making sure we’re getting those bills paid as fast as we possibly can. People are paying their bills to us, so we’re processing payments.”
The city will begin to plan its budget for the coming fiscal year this month, and projections for sales tax revenue will be tough to project. Kuckkahn said the city has been making a concentrated effort to call businesses of all sizes to gauge how things are going. He said it ranges from closures to businesses that are seeing increases as people buy necessities to get by.
Phone calls to city hall are being answered by a rotation of staff coming in at different times. If you call the city offices and there is no answer, Kuckkahn said to leave a message and your call will be returned.
Kuckkahn compared the current coronavirus to a train derailment that spilled benzene in northwest Scottsbluff in 2000.
“It has the characteristics of that,” he said. “There’s this really high rise of anxiety and energy put into it, and then it starts to taper off at some point - this one is a little longer, a little different obviously. It’s still a health-related kind of issue, so people have a personal angst about it. As an individual, you feel that stress of tension. Obviously, again, it’s not business as usual.”
As events unfold and circumstances change, Kuckkahn and the city council along with department heads will have decisions to make. Kuckkahn said he has been helped greatly by the support he has had from the city council.
“The other thing about the council,” Kuckkahn said, “is that they’ve really contributed to and supported the way that we’re responding to this. That makes my job so much easier if I’m not struggling with debate or discontinuity between them and myself. I can’t tell you how awesome they’ve been in this whole process, from the day I was hired really until now, and I’m sure it will continue.”
Through changes, the city’s staff has continued to do their work, whether it be police, fire and sanitation on the front lines or the parks department working limited shifts or the library staff continuing to make updates to provide more online options.
“One of the reasons that I came here is because I have confidence in the people that I worked with in the past, and I figured they’ll have my back just like they always have,” Kuckkahn said. “And that’s absolutely what’s happening. They’re hard working. I knew that. They’re dedicated. I knew that, and was willing to come into a situation — before the coronavirus broke out — there was no hesitation. I saw all of this and said, ‘yeah, this is the right thing to do.’ And I kind of felt like I owed it to the community.”
Kuckkahn urged businesses and residents to continue to monitor the city’s website at scottsbluff.org for continual updates on city services, COVOID-19 and the state’s directed health measure.