Employees of this Kansas city are back at work

At a study session this week, Abilene City Manager Jane Folz explained how city employees are safely returning to work, and how budget shortfalls are being managed


Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, Kan.
By Tim Horan

All but two employees of the city of Abilene were back to work on Monday.

City Manager Jane Foltz outlined the policy to the Abilene City Commission at a study session on Monday.

“All full-time employees did report to work today,” Foltz said Monday. “We are using social distancing. All have been given instructions on sanitizing machines they are using mutually.”

She said the city is working with the Dickinson County Health Department and received information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on the proceedures.

“We are going to act as though everyone has the coronavirus,” she said in her report.

Masks, gloves, sanitizers and thermometers have been ordered for all workers which should arrive this week.

“Everyone is working hard to keep the spread of this out of our workplace,” Foltz said of COVID-19.

Governing online

The doors to the city building will be locked and not open to the public until Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order is lifted, which she extended until May 3. In the meantime, city meetings can be reviewed on the city’s YouTube channel.

Temperatures will be taken when the employee arrives to work. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or above will be sent home immediately. They may return to work 72 hours after they are fever free, Foltz said.

Mayor Chris Ostermann asked about a comparison with the first three months of 2019 with this year. Foltz said the city is operating with one less full-time employee and one part-time employee. Four seasonal workers have not been hired in the parks and public works departments.

She said some employees have been reassigned to other areas.

“This will be temporary until things get back to normal,” she said. “Every hour, every day, every week, things change. We are trying to do the best for the city of Abilene. Everyday there could be changes to this plan. As we make changes we will update you.”

Budget Constraints

Foltz said Marcus Rothchild, finance director, is reviewing the 2020 budget.

Foltz said the city placed a freeze on hiring and spending.

“Open positions were not filled. That was just phase one to see where we would be,” Foltz reported.

She said that department heads have been reviewing the 2020 operations budget and have cut items like training, travel, equipment purchases and fuel.

“Each week we are evaluating new numbers. We are talking with other city managers all over the state,” she said.

She said furloughs have been discussed.

“We don’t want to lose services,” she said. “We want to delay losing any employees.”

Some projects, purchases and maintenance of equipment and buildings could be delayed until a future date once things return to normal, she said.

Water shutoffs

Because of Gov. Kelly’s order, the city is not shutting off water for nonpayment.

Foltz said the city has 115 customers that are behind in payment. The range is from $29 to $291 totaling $9,000.

“When someone calls and says ‘I just can’t pay,’ we ask them to please try to pay something on the bill,” Foltz said.

That way, when the order is lifted, residents are not facing large water bills.

“We hope that we don’t have to come out and shut off their water,” she said. “We know there are people that have been laid off but we have bills as well. We don’t have a big slush fund. We are working everyday to pay our bills and our employees.”

(c)2020 the Abilene Reflector-Chronicle (Abilene, Kan.)