News Flash

Wright County News

Posted on: May 15, 2020

County to Open Public Counters on Appointment Only Basis Starting May 27

At a special meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners this morning (May 15), the board responded to the announced lifting of Gov. Tim Walz’s stay at home Executive Order – which will expire Monday, May 18.

The board wrestled with the challenge of fully opening its public counters while adhering the social distancing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health. After discussing several possible scenarios, the board approved a structured opening of public counters – requiring the public to make an appointment for a time specific to conduct business with the county.

The offices scheduled to have public facing counters available for appointments starting Wednesday, May 27 include Assessor, Recorder, Health & Human Services, Planning & Zoning, Veteran Services, Auditor/Treasurer and Administration. The License Bureau (Department of Motor Vehicles) is tentatively scheduled to have public facing counters available starting Thursday, June 4 – pending remodeling currently taking place and more time to devise a plan to systematically route traffic through the most highly congested county offices in the Government Center. 

Commissioner Mark Daleiden said the appointment approach was the only avenue to take given that safety remains the single biggest concern in county facilities.

“In order to follow CDC and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, I don’t see any other choice,” Daleiden said. “We can’t control how many people show up at one time. This facility is not set up the best and there is no way that we can control social distancing guidelines in many of those areas.”

Commissioner Darek Vetsch explained that there remain multiple unknowns regarding a “re-opening” of public windows. These include changes in staffing behind the counters given the social distancing guidelines as well as ways to keep the public safe from potential community spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve looked at multiple different plans of how to safely open public counters that is mindful of the safety of both the public and our staff,” Vetsch said. “For many of those departments, it won’t be an issue because they don’t do the kind of volume business that we see at the DMV. Making appointments for those departments should be relatively smooth and easy to do. The hope is to not have a flood of people all coming in on May 27 at the same time. We’re still required to follow social distancing and this is an approach that can get service requests fulfilled without putting anyone at any undue risk.”

Board Chair Christine Husom understands the angst felt by residents who haven’t been able to conduct the business they need with the county under the current situation. It has been a fluid, morphing situation since mid-March and, while returning to some sense of normalcy is a positive sign, the fact remains that the COVID-19 numbers in Wright County have grown at the fastest rate of any time during the past few days and that caution needs to be taken.

“This has been a very challenging time,” Husom said. “It’s frustrating for every citizen that needs to come in and do business with the county to take care of their business. We recognize that. We had anticipated that the (stay at home) order would be extended. We weren’t prepared to open public windows on the 18th to put the safeguards in place to better protect the public and our staff. If we didn’t have growing numbers of people contracting COVID, it might have been a different story. But, we do and we want to take precautions and having an appointment system to start is a positive step.”

The impact of COVID-19 isn’t going to go away any time soon, but Wright County Administrator Lee Kelly said that staff and county leadership have taken as many precautionary, proactive steps as possible for when the public would be returning in larger numbers to the Government Center and other county facilities.

“We put a lot of thought into trying to meet the needs of the public in a safe way,” Kelly said. “We realize that there is a backlog in some areas and we want to be sensitive to meeting that. We feel that providing structure to how we open up and using a phased approach is going to net the best result for everyone involved. I don’t know that there’s a perfect solution, but we feel we’ve done the best we can to provide the opportunity for it to go well as we continue to roll out more options.”

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