Newberry Retains All City Employees As It Adapts Services To Pandemic

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The city of Newberry is operating online and sending essential employees into the field, but under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

Mayor Jordan Marlowe said about a third of the city’s employees are still working in the office or outside their homes. The city is adhering to the same social distancing recommendations the CDC gave to businesses with one person every 1,000 square feet.

“I think it’s pretty manageable,” Marlowe said. “Our offices are small, but they don’t have many people in them to begin with.”

City Manager Mike New said not one city employee has been laid off because of COVID-19, with some creative adaptations.

The Parks and Recreation Department converted into a service called Newberry Eats, which delivers food from local restaurants to residents’ homes. By doing so, Marlowe said, the city can support local businesses and keep its own workers busy.

New said the delivery service is partnering with Domino’s Pizza, which is providing 400 pizzas for the city’s distribution to its residents free of charge. Parks and recreation employees will deliver 40 pizzas per night over a span of 10 days.

The idea for Newberry Eats came about during a staff meeting, Director of Recreation Travis Parker said.

“We were trying to think of what we can do to serve citizens because our normal operations are shut down,” Parker said.

The staff envisioned helping the elderly and those who cannot or should not leave their homes, but the program is open to everyone. There is no delivery fee, and the service is available from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The delivery drivers are parks and recreation staff who rotate shifts. Calls come into dispatch, and drivers are sent to pick up and deliver the food, Parker said.

“Mainly, the people taking advantage of it are the ones that can’t or shouldn’t go out,” Parker said.

The Newberry Parks and Recreation Facebook page posted a list of restaurants in Newberry that are offering food pick-up along with their phone numbers. Although Newberry Eats is geared toward restaurants in Newberry, locations in surrounding areas, such as Jonesville, are possible with enough drivers, Parker said.

Any tips given to delivery drivers will go to a utility reimbursement program to help Newberry residents cover bills during the pandemic.

Newberry Eats is funded through the reallocation of the recreational operations budget because the department is still providing a service, Parker said. Their city-owned vehicles have turned to delivery cars.

“Once everything is cleared up, then we will go back to our normal lives, but it will extend through as long as there is a need for it,” Parker said.

Other departments are also looking at ways to offer needed services during this unusual time — New said the Finance and Administration Department is providing free printing and copying to students via the city hall’s drive-thru.

Marlowe said most of Newberry’s department heads are able to work from home. He and the city commissioners communicate over Zoom. He said his days are full of virtual meetings — some planned in advance and some held as an emergency.

Director of Planning and Economic Development Bryan Thomas said officials are operating from home for the most part. The Code Enforcement Department, which Thomas oversees, takes calls and reports of violations through its online portal. Most reports have been violations of the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing in businesses, which the city’s employees work with the businesses to resolve.

On the front lines are the Building Department’s inspectors, he said, who inspect construction sites. The contractors make arrangements with the inspector to visit separately or the contractor sends a picture to the inspector to sign off on.

“Second to the health and safety of our staff has been maintaining the highest level of customer service to our residents,” Thomas said. “It hasn’t been as efficient, but we’ve still been successful.”

New said the city does have essential employees like those from the Utilities and Public Works departments.

“If someone has an electric problem, our utilities employees can’t repair that from their homes,” he said. “And public works employees are still outside working on roads.”

Due to the coronavirus, he said, the departments are taking extra precautions. The workers no longer pair up on service calls and instead drive separate vehicles.

Newberry’s fire department has continued its regular operations, said Lt. Wayne Farr, but firefighters are being extra cautious and wearing masks on every call.

To have food delivered by Newberry Eats, call (352) 472-5663 ext. 148 once you have completed your order at a restaurant.

About Brenna DeLong

Brenna is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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