Sussex County government continues to deliver services to the public, but significant modifications to day-to-day operations, including ending public access to all county facilities, suspending marriage ceremonies, and halting cash payments, are some of the exceptional steps being implemented as Delaware responds to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting populations around the world.
Effective Thursday, March 19, all county government facilities will be closed to public access until further notice. The public will be allowed strict limited entry only to the lobby of the County Administrative Offices building, located at 2 The Circle in Georgetown, during regular business hours to drop off documents to be processed by county staff. Select staff will remain at work or telecommute to continue daily operations, but in-person contact with employees in their respective offices will be prohibited.
County government is encouraging the public to do business as much as possible through electronic means, namely email and telephone. Scanned documents, such as building permit applications, requests for site inspections, deed recordings, and more, can be transmitted to offices electronically. The county has developed a COVID-19 portal to provide specific information about modified services, viewable at www.sussexcountyde.gov/coronavirus. Information for contacting county offices is available on the county’s website, atwww.sussexcountyde.gov, and will be posted outside county facilities, as well.
Meantime, the Marriage Bureau has suspended performing all wedding ceremonies and issuing licenses, though certified-copy applications will be received electronically or via drop-off. And county offices will halt accepting cash as a form of payment for all services. Only credit card or check payments will be accepted. For credit card payments, all surcharges will be waived until further notice to accommodate customers inconvenienced by the temporary policy.
“These are unprecedented times, and this is an unprecedented response, but we believe these are necessary steps to protect the health and safety of our staff and the public we serve,” Sussex County Council President Michael H. Vincent said. “We understand how important it is for the public to interact with our staff and utilize our services on a daily basis, whether that’s obtaining permits, submitting building plans, making utility payments, or recording deeds. Those and all the other important services the County provides on a daily basis continue at this time, and we remain operational.
“But we are changing the way we do business as this crisis evolves, and we may have to change it even further in the days and weeks ahead as we all learn more about this pandemic,” Mr. Vincent added. “So we ask the public to understand this and to bear with us during these very trying times. We will get through this, and we will do it together. But it will take all of us exercising a high degree of sacrifice and patience.”
County offices will be staffed with a combination of employees on site, as well as others working from remote locations to limit contacts and community spread, and preserve the integrity of operations. Various steps, including social distancing and frequent facility cleanings, already have been and will continue to be employed to minimize the virus’ spread and keep staff safe.
While routine services and processes are being affected, and in some cases turnaround times for documents could be slowed, critical time-sensitive county functions such as 911, paramedic, sewer and water services will continue around the clock and unimpeded. The county is implementing numerous additional measures to protect those critical services, including health screenings of employees at each shift change, suspending discretionary leave, and locking down facilities to only employees who work in a given department/building.
“Our 911 dispatchers will continue to answer the call, our paramedics will continue to roll out onto the streets, the wastewater plants will continue to accept and process the flows,” Vincent said. “These are vital, core services that we must guarantee at all costs to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our community.”
As day-to-day operations are changing, so, too, have public meetings of Sussex County Council and other boards and commissions.
Already this week, both Sussex County Council and Board of Adjustment held previously scheduled meetings, but public access was either limited or entirely restricted, with the proceedings only accessible online, as permitted by an emergency declaration from Gov. John C. Carney. Future meetings of those bodies, as well as the Planning & Zoning Commission, remain scheduled, but are subject to change.
County officials remind the public to go to www.sussexcountyde.gov for the latest information on how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting local government operations.