Statement from Mayor Joe Michaelis
My fellow Highland Area Residents, 4/30/2020
As we enter the month of May still dealing with the impact of this global pandemic, I have received some questions from citizens about steps the City is taking during this response.
I believe it is important to understand the role of our local government and what our areas of responsibility are during this time, and what our limitations are.
Executive orders, laws and guidance are passed down from the Federal and State levels to the citizens and local governments. Local government is responsible for the response and protection of our local communities operating within those Executive orders, laws and guidelines. To that end, the City of Highland met with HSHS St. Joseph’s Highland administration in January to begin planning for the public response to this pandemic as our local hospital would no doubt be the hub of our response. Working with the hospital and the school district, our Public Safety Department developed extensive response plans that could be enacted based upon the level of emergency our community faced. Fortunately, our citizens have listened to the guidance and have self-distanced resulting in a relatively low virus impact for our community. The citizens should be commended for this sacrifice as I know it is appreciated by our first responders, healthcare workers and other essential employees.
Local government also has a responsibility for advocating on behalf of our communities at the State and Federal level. This happens in various forms, from phone calls to our local legislators, to our participation in the Illinois Municipal League, which has been working with the Governor’s office throughout this response.
Because we are subject to and required to operate within the laws and guidelines from the State and Federal officials, we are using these mechanisms to have our voices heard. IML and our local legislators are working on several pieces of legislation related to this pandemic that will impact both our local government and our citizens and small business owners. For example, at the state level IML has proposed to reamortize pension obligations and restore the municipal share of the Local Government Distributive Fund to pre-2010 levels. Both of these would have a direct impact on local government tax assessments benefitting the local taxpayer.
At the Federal level legislators are discussing a Coronavirus-specific tort reform law that would offer protection to businesses and their liability insurance carriers as they reopen and additional stimulus money for both small businesses and local governments.
This pandemic has touched every part of our society, culture and economy. The response is impacting many of our local residents and businesses, and, like all natural disasters, is disproportionately impacting our small businesses and the service industry. The City of Highland tasked Community Development Director Breann Speraneo and Economic Development Coordinator Mallord Hubbard with researching programs and assistance available to our local businesses, and they have hosted 2 webinars on the topic and are still available for any business that need assistance or have questions. If there is a continuing need for this information, we can host this program again, or local businesses can and should consult their bankers, accountants or lawyers about their eligibility for PPP loans under the CARES Act.
We are now a small community part of a larger global society that has an easily transmitted virus with no known vaccine or standard treatment. This means we as a community, will have to adapt to this new global society. Wearing masks and social distancing will likely become part of what we do as responsible citizens to protect others and ourselves and to not overload our limited healthcare resources.
Businesses will adapt, changing how they provide their services to protect both their workers and their customers. Online services for both government and businesses will become much more commonplace and will become the standard. Businesses are strongly encouraged to consult with their lawyers and liability insurance carriers to discuss their operations going forward to make sure we are all operating in a safe and responsible manner in line with new social norms. We are very lucky here in Highland to have HCS, our fiber to the premises service, which provides the infrastructure for businesses to grow and adapt in the new online, e-commerce driven marketplace.
Our government entities will also have to modify how we provide services and how we interact with the public to protect both our workers and the public. We are exploring software options that will allow us to streamline our government services and provide more options for citizen self-service online, rather than in person. City buildings that are open to the public will require physical barriers, and we may consolidate locations that are open to the public. Our employees will have new PPE guidelines and workspace cleaning procedures. We have been in constant contact with and receive up to date guidance from the CDC, IDPH and our local Madison County Department of Public Health. We are evaluating their guidance about how to reopen our public parks and recreation facilities in a safe and responsible manner.
I know there is a lot of anxiety and fear in our community about the virus, about the short-term impact on our community, about the long-term impact on our community and the changes we are facing not just as a local community, but also as a national society. From the Spanish Flu to Polio, we have faced these public health emergencies before and we can overcome this one as we have the others. Communities all over this country are facing these same fears and anxieties and are evaluating the same decisions we are here in Highland.
I want to assure all Highland citizens that I, the council, and all of our administrators and staff share those concerns, and we are working diligently to lead the way for our community in how to adapt our services in a safe and responsible manner in light of this new reality.
God Bless. Stay safe and stay healthy.
Joseph R. Michaelis, Mayor