Starting Monday, June 29, Sussex County government will take its first steps to reopen the administration building to the public on a limited basis. In addition, Sussex County Council will meet in person in council chambers on Tuesday, June 30, for the first time since the COVID-19 state of emergency was declared in mid-March.
Subsequent planning and zoning commission and board of adjustment meetings will also reopen to the public, all with strict social distancing protocols in place.
“Reopen is really a misnomer,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson, as he outlined the plan during the June 23 council meeting. “Sussex government has been open and operating throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Now we are prepared to conduct business in a new fashion.”
Visitors to the county building will go through security checks, as well as health screenings to include touchless temperature assessments and a wellness survey. Individuals without masks or who exhibit symptoms of illness, including fever, will not be permitted entry.
A new wall has been constructed in the building's lobby to restrict open access to the facility.
Meetings open to the public
While meetings will be open to the public, Lawson said people can still participate via telephone or watch via livestream.
No more than 30 people can sit in council chambers, and they must sit 6 feet apart. All attendees will be escorted into the meeting after a health screening.
Lawson said meetings with public hearings present a different set of challenges. Applicants and the public can testify in person or via teleconference.
He said if more than 30 people are in attendance, the lobby will be used to accommodate 15 to 20 more people. If capacity of 50 is reached, people will have to wait outside. “It might be one in, one out to speak and all will leave after their hearing is over,” he said.
Lawson said because hearings have not been conducted, a backlog has developed. He said council will need to address how it will get caught up on hearings by possibly adding more meetings or devoting meetings only to hearings.
In addition, he said, the backlog includes hearings that could attract widespread public interest with the possibility of 100 or more people wanting to attend. Lawson said council and staff will need to come up with a plan to address that issue.
Limited access to county offices
Members of the public with business at the county’s main offices will be allowed access by appointment only for most services, though walk-ins will be allowed – limited to a few customers at a time – for building permit services and payments. A new teller-like payment window will be in operation at the entrance to the administration building for people to make payments with cash, check or credit card. A health screening will not be required to drop off payments.
Residents seeking building permits and plan reviews will now have access to the office on a limited basis. Lawson said three customers will be waited on at a time with no more than three transactions, with up to five customers in line in the lobby. All other customers will have to wait outside and will be notified on their phone when space is available.
Electronic transmittal of documents, as well as drop-off and pickup service in the lobby, will continue.
Many offices, including register of wills, planning and zoning office, marriage bureau, engineering-utility permits office and assessments office are accessible by appointment only.
Still closed to the public: constable, economic development, general engineering, recorder of deeds and sheriff’s offices. Sheriff sales have not been conducted during the state of emergency.
For more details, go to sussexcountyde.gov/June2020-reopening.