Batesville declares local emergency; officials worry about crowded grocery stores
Published 11:10 am Friday, March 20, 2020
Mayor Jerry Autrey held a meeting with city aldermen by teleconference Friday morning.
Batesville Police Chief Jimmy McCloud said Piggly Wiggly was “a madhouse” at 8:15 Friday morning, echoing the comments of other city officials who have witnessed large crowds in grocery stores and retails outlets. McCloud said people didn’t seem to be rude, but the size of the crowd worried him with the Coronavirus threat looming ever larger.
The chief was joined by several aldermen who expressed their concern about the number of people in close contact with one another at some local retail businesses. Despite their worries, the City Board stopped short of forcing businesses – mostly larger grocery and retail outlets – to limit the number of customers at a time in each establishment.
Instead, the Mayor and Aldermen asked McCloud and Fire Chief Tim Taylor to make appointments with the managers of local stores that continue to draw large crowds, advise them of occupancy loads for each building, and ask them to consider limiting access to their stores to senior citizens for the first two hours of each day.
“They did good cutting their hours, but that just concentrated more people during that time,” said Alderman Teddy Morrow. “They almost need to be open 24 hours to spread out the crowds.”
The board made two official actions at the Friday morning meeting held by teleconference. Autrey led the meeting from the boardroom at City Hall. First, the board officially adopted a Proclamation of Existence of a Local Emergency, which allows local business owners, and individuals in some cases, to be eligible for any federal or state relief funds that could be made available in coming weeks and months.
Both the Proclamation and the Executive Order are published at the bottom of this page.
Additionally, the board voted unanimously to have Autrey issue an executive order that waives “certain regulations established by the Zoning Ordinances and other related Ordinances in an effort to improve the ability for existing businesses to improve their ability to sale products.”
Essentially, that order allows restaurants and retail businesses to set up temporary places to conduct business outside their physical locations. This will let restaurants and stores erect tents to serve customers, normally not allowed by city rules. Businesses may also put up temporary banners and signage during this time.
City Clerk Susan Berryhill told the board that management from the local Cracker Barrel and Chili’s outlets have been calling City Hall since Tuesday asking for a copy of a city-mandated order to limit the number of customers inside restaurants. Without this documentation for their corporate offices, some franchise restaurants are unable to take such actions.
Locally, most fast food restaurants have closed their dining rooms and are only serving customers at their drive thru windows.
Oxford restaurants have been following the policy adopted by Batesville aldermen since Tuesday.
The fire chief reported that occupancy loads are based on square footage and each permitted business in Batesville has that number on file. For Piggly Wiggly the occupancy load is 500 people, inclusive of all employees on duty. Taylor said he will make sure at least the occupancy limit is followed, but agreed with McCloud that he has no way of limiting the number of people in any one store.
The Mayor and Aldermen were quick to acknowledge they appreciate Piggly Wiggly and all other retail outlets in the city, referring to the county’s most popular grocery as “great corporate citizens,” but were frustrated that part of the local population has so far ignored the repeated requests of the President of the United States and the Governor of Mississippi to practice social distancing (keeping at least six feet away from other people at all times) and avoid any gatherings of 10 or more people.
City board members agreed to closely monitor the local traffic in businesses and take further action, if necessary to public safety.
PROCLAMATION OF EXISTENCE OF A LOCAL EMERGENCY
WHEREAS, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the City of Batesville does hereby find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property have arisen within said City, caused by COVID-19 commencing on or about 07:00 AM on the 12th day of March, 2020; and
WHEREAS, the aforesaid conditions of extreme peril warrant and necessitate the proclamation of the existence of a local emergency in order to provide for the health and safety of the citizens and the protection of their property within the affected jurisdiction;
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY PROCLAIMED that in accordance with Section 33-15-17(d), Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended, a local emergency now exists throughout said City; and shall be reviewed every thirty (30) days until such local emergency is no longer in effect and proclaimed terminated by the City of Batesville, Mississippi.
IT IS FURTHER PROCLAIMED AND ORDERED that all City agencies and departments shall render all possible assistance and discharge their emergency responsibilities as set forth in the City Emergency Operations Plan.
March 20, 2020
Re: Temporary Relief of certain Ordinance- and Zoning Ordinances-related restrictions.
In response to the Local Emergency Declaration relating to the Coronavirus, I am authorizing the City of Batesville, Code Enforcement Office the authority to waive certain regulations established by the Zoning Ordinance and other related Ordinances in an effort to improve the ability for existing businesses to improve their ability to sale products:
- Restaurants and retail locations are encouraged to offer curbside service.
- Restaurants and retail locations may place tents in parking spaces near the front door in order to accomplish the curbside service. No permit required.
- Restaurants and retail locations may place a banner on tents advertising the curbside services. No permit required.
- Businesses of all types are encouraged to incorporate Delivery Services as appropriate and the use of Video Conference as much as possible.
- All businesses are encouraged to hand sanitizer, gloves, open door, and demonstrate good hygiene to patrons to improve the comfort level of customers.
- Residents, Visitors, and Businesses are encouraged to support businesses.
- Restaurants are encouraged to partner with neighborhoods to deliver box lunches and dinners.
- Medical Clinics and pharmacies are encouraged to offer curbside/drive-thru testing and delivery services.
- Businesses are encouraged to expend their marketing and promotional efforts in order to encourage customers to patronize businesses.
City of Batesville, Mississippi