City officials met in a special session Friday morning, in person and via Zoom teleconferencing app, to discuss maximum occupancy of businesses and the city’s budget. Attending in person, from left: Mayor Jack Pahlmann and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Topliff in the background, and Building Inspector Dustin Harrison and Finance Director Todd Harman in the foreground. Mallory Snodgras was also present. Those participating via Zoom were City Administrator Tom Stehn, top left, Councilwoman Jessica Nease, middle left, Councilman Josh Cotter, middle right, City Attorney Charles Cantrell, bottom, and Councilman Cary Stewart, not visible.

In a continued effort to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease, the city of West Plains on Friday issued a mandate limiting the occupancy load of businesses by 50%, and urged owners of nonessential businesses still in operation to close down shop, or else face consequences.
In a 5 p.m. address, Gov. Mike Parson issued an order of his own: Starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday and continuing through 11:59 April 24, the entire state is under a stay-at-home order.
The subject of maximum occupancy was an action item during a special West Plains City Council meeting held Friday morning.
The occupancy limit is effective immediately and is part of the of the stay-at-home order and accompanying ordinance passed March 27 and set to expire at 11:59 p.m. April 15. The order was issued by Mayor Jack Pahlmann, along with the council and city administration, for the health and safety of West Plains citizens.
The governor's stay-at-home order, similar to the city of West Plains', also includes occupancy load limitations for essential businesses engaged in retail: Those with buildings smaller than 10,000 square feet may not have more than 25% of the established maximum occupancy, as determined by building or fire codes. Larger buildings must limit occupancy to 10% of the established maximum.
Earlier in the day, during the meeting, Pahlmann brought up concerns about how to enforce the limit if it became necessary to do so.
“Enforcement of such an order would be a nightmare,” Pahlmann said. “First of all, we don’t want the police to go into Aldi every morning and make everyone stand still so they can count heads.”
Councilwoman Jessica Nease pointed out that other communities have been limiting occupancy per thousand square feet and national chains already have plans of how to deal with local ordinances and statewide laws regarding occupancy.
“These stores are well-prepared to implement whatever needs to be implemented,” Nease said. She added that enforcement would be a moot point when it comes to a virus that doesn’t care about the orders of a community.
“It’s our responsibility to keep people safe,” Nease said. “Supporting businesses that are already implementing things like this is a positive.”
 In all, city officials hope that the limit will help lessen the chance of the disease spreading and give stores a chance to restock their shelves.
Councilman Cary Stewart also brought up the idea of potentially limiting parking at some stores as a way to cut down on the number of people visiting stores.
About half an hour before the governor's address, city officials, along with the West Plains Police Department, issued a statement outlining the consequences if a nonessential business is found to be in violation of the city's stay-at-home order.
Businesses found to be in violation of the order will first be issued a warning and then asked to close down if they are unable to provide the appropriate documentation showing they are essential, according to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, officials explained.
If the business remains open in violation of the order, the business could receive a summons from the police department. Fines and jail time for violators could be potential punishment.
“It is extremely important that businesses comply with this order, for the protection and well-being of our community,” said Police Chief Stephen Monticelli.
The order and accompanying ordinance was issued to protect the community from the transmission of the novel coronavirus, which has now been confirmed in Howell County.
Businesses deemed as providing as providing essential activities are allowed to remain open during the order, but still must follow social distancing rules of at least 6 feet per President Donald Trump’s mandate, as well as Gov. Parson's order.
Essential businesses include healthcare and public health services, construction, veterinary services, food/shelter/social services, mortuary, home-based care, law enforcement and first responders;
Hazardous materials handling and cleanup, grocery stores, food banks, convenience stores, restaurant carry-out/drive-thru/delivery services, energy/electricity/petroleum/natural and propane gas, waste and wastewater, logistics and transportation of goods and people;
Vehicle repair and maintenance facilities, public works support, public infrastructure support and maintenance, information technology, hotels/motels, medical supply manufacturing, legal and critical financial services, lawn and landscaping, building supply;
Laundromats, residential care facilities, mailing and shipping services, educational activities for distance learning and childcare with groups of 10 or fewer.
To report violators of the order call the West Plains Police Department at 256-2244.
For more information visit the city’s website at www.westplains.net and click the “Stay at Home Order Facts” button or call 256-7176.
Also during the meeting Finance Director Todd Harman gave a review of the city and utility budgets for the 2021 fiscal year. Harman noted that, though the city made many financial improvements over the 2020 fiscal year and was in a much better position since the 2019 fiscal year, the downturn in sales tax and other revenues would cause the city to possibly looking at cutting certain items from the city’s budget, such as funding for outside organizations.
Examples of such organizations Harman brought to the city council’s attention include Chamber of Commerce, the West Plains Downtown Revitalization Group, the West Plains Economic Development Corporation and the public library.
He also said it might be necessary to review budget items by a month-to-month basis as the pandemic and the stay-at-home order remain in effect.
The council agreed to meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday to further review and finalize the budget.
For more information call 256-7176.

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