Hilltowns declare states of emergency in response to COVID-19

  • Worthington Town Hall

For the Gazette
Published: 3/19/2020 12:30:50 PM

The six hilltowns of Hampshire County have all declared states of emergency because of concerns about the new coronavirus, joining a list of communities that have made similar announcements this week.

The towns of Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield, Williamsburg and Worthington have closed all municipal buildings and have made special arrangements for town employees to practice social distancing at work and to assist the public through phone, email and regular mail.

Most of the towns had shut down town buildings to the public and this week officially issued formal states of emergency.

“This makes sure that, if this gets worse, we will now be on the list for assistance from MEMA and FEMA,” Plainfield Select Board Chairman Howard Bronstein said, referring to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bronstein said that in small towns, most of their employees are part time, making it easier to stagger hours and not work together. Highway department personnel, for example, are arranging their hours so that no one rides together in vehicles.

He said that any staff that misses time due to illness or self-quarantining will continue to be paid their regular salary and residents that owe any taxes or fees will not be pursued for payment until after the emergency is over.

In Plainfield, all town buildings will remain closed until further notice, and the Select Board is not scheduled to meet again until April 7.

In other towns like Chesterfield and Cummington, boards and committees will continue to meet under the new temporary Open Meeting Law guidelines recently approved by Gov. Charlie Baker. The guidelines allow cities and towns to restrict meetings and hearings, or to hold them remotely, in order to continue town business and protect the public from COVID-19.

“That is a big issue,” Cummington Select Board Chairperson Bill Adams said. “Now if we have to we can hold a meeting by phone.”

Most boards and committees in Goshen will not meet unless it becomes necessary.

Worthington Select Board Chairperson Charlie Rose said the town Select Board is holding virtual meetings during the state of emergency.

“We signed up for a Zoom account so far it has been working OK,” he said. “Overall we are doing pretty good.”

Rose encourages anyone who is self-quarantining in Worthington due to any illness to notify the Board of Health.

Many of the towns are currently trying to compile lists of vulnerable individuals who may be disabled, elderly, or struggle with food insecurity so that they can better assist these residents during this emergency, or others that may arise.

The Hilltown Food Pantry, a satellite of the Northampton Survival Center in Goshen, will remain open following strict safety protocols.

Williamsburg Select Board Chairperson Denise Banister said that she has been pleased to see the way that townspeople are pulling together.

“People are adapting well, they are good at that,” she said. “They proceed with caution and do what they need to do.”

Adams, of Cummington, stressed that in times like these, looking out for one another is key.

“It is about neighbor taking care of neighbor, calling to see if they need anything and doing wellness checks,” he said. “From what I see, people are doing the social distancing and taking care of each other.”

Williamsburg Town Administrator Charlene Nardi said that many citizens are asking how they can volunteer to help.

“The question for us is how to figure out logistics, and coordinate everything in this new world we are working in,” she said. “If this turns out to be long term, we need to make sure we are prepared so that people have what they need.”

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