REED CITY \u2014 The Osceola County Board of Commissioners voted to extend the local state of emergency once more with disagreement from some commissioners. The extension passed during a recent meeting in a 5-2 vote with Commissioners Sally Momany and Jill Halladay voting "no." The emergency will run through April 6. In his report to the board, Mark Watkins, Osceola County's emergency manager, said the Emergency Operations Center remains operational primarily to assist the health department and vaccination clinics in the vaccination process, and the state of emergency was necessary to continue that support. \u201cThe vaccination process consists of the internal clinics as well as the ones they are doing at both the Reed City and Marion offices,\u201d Watkins said. \u201cI can\u2019t say enough about what the health department is doing with the vaccination process given the resources and constraints they have been given. They are doing an excellent job serving the community. \u201cThe EOC is helping out with scheduling and we have coordinated with them so that maintains itself after March 15,\u201d he added. \u201cWith all the vaccination clinics ongoing, I believe a local state of emergency is warranted until April 6, which is another 30-day extension.\u201d Commissioners expressed concerns that continuing the state of emergency declaration would inhibit the ability of businesses, schools and county offices to begin opening to the public. Partial closures have been in place for months due to the continued spread of COVID-19. \u201cDuring our last meeting we passed a resolution about the whole COVID-19 pandemic, so I have a hard time now turning around and supporting the continuing of the state of emergency,\u201d Momany said. \u201cIn my opinion, it is time to open things back up and move forward.\u201d During a meeting in February, the board adopted a resolution calling upon the Michigan Legislature to \u201crestore the checks and balances essential to our democracy,\u201d and supporting a challenge to the legality of the \u201corders and restrictions\u201d put in place \u201cin response to the COVID-19 pandemic.\u201d Watkins reassured the board the state of emergency was not in place to keep things closed, but rather to assist them in opening safely. \u201cI totally understand the position on that, but right now the state of emergency has nothing to do with shutting anything down,\u201d Watkins said. \u201cIn fact, it is helping open things up. There is a difference between the state of emergency and the executive orders shutting things down. Our services are helping with safety plans to keep things open, as well as providing services to schools and other places to remain open.\u201d County Administrator Susan Vander Pol reminded commissioners that without the state of emergency declaration, it would not be legal for them to conduct virtual meetings beyond March 31. The Open Meetings Act was amended to allow for virtual meetings through March 31 for any reason. Beyond March 31, there are specific guidelines for participating in a public meeting virtually. \u201cThe is a limit, right now, as to any type of public gathering, so if you weren\u2019t able to Zoom your board meetings, there would be issues with your compliance to the open meetings act,\u201d Vander Pol said. The executive orders and recommendations from DHHS and MIOSHA limit the number of people that can attend meetings in person, and that those in attendance maintain the six-foot social distancing recommendation. Commissioner Timothy Michell said it was his understanding that townships and schools, as well as other public bodies, are being told they cannot conduct meetings with a large number of people in the same room right now. \u201cWe still cannot get in the same room together, so how can we possibly have an open meeting if we can\u2019t do it personally?\u201d Michell asked. \u201cIf somebody wants to come to our meeting, by law we have to allow that.\u201d Watkins told the board the shutdowns and open meetings issue have almost nothing to do with the state of emergency. \u201cThe Open Meetings Act, I understand is a bit of a concern, however, a lot of people are tagging that to the state of emergency because there was a law put into place that under a local state of emergency you can continue to meet remotely,\u201d Watkins said. \u201cRegardless of whatever people believe about COVID-19, the fact remains that we still have emergency preparations in place. There are still vaccination clinics and public health needs support that is not available through the standard safety net. In addition, there are financial processes ongoing that will decrease the burden on the county, the cities and the municipalities." Michell asked if the county would lose future federal funding if they were not in a state of emergency. \u201cI understand there is more money coming, and there is still money left over from last year that they don\u2019t know what to do with,\u201d Michell said. \u201cIf there is federal funding available that can relieve the tax burden on our citizens, then I am all for it.\u201d Watkins said they would "absolutely" lose federal monies, and he believes the efforts of the EOC are currently allowing them to maximize available funding. \u201cAll the state of emergency is doing is allowing us to maintain our staff to help the community be safe and to continue to address these COVID-19 related issues,\u201d he said. \u201cIf the state of emergency drops, then those support functions will have to be redistributed to the respective county departments and will no longer be supported by the EOC. I firmly believe that is not in the best interest of the county.\u201d HOUSING PROGRAM UPDATE In other business, the board addressed the possibility of moving the Housing Rehabilitation Program to a third party contractor. The housing rehabilitation program, currently within the Community Economic Development department, provides funding for home repairs to low-income residents. Community development director Dan Massy told the board he did not believe moving the administrative responsibilities to a third-party contractor would be a good decision. Osceola County currently has a contract with the Big Rapids Housing Commission to perform functions related to housing rehab grant, but the community development department does the administrative tasks that allow it to maintain oversight of the program, Massy said in a letter to the board. \u201cThe county will lose oversight of the program but will remain responsible for ensuring the Community Development Block Grant is properly managed,\u201d Massy said. Vander Pol said the guidance from the grant document indicated that the county can contract out for someone else to do work, but ultimately, a county employee is responsible for the grant. \u201cThe state of Michigan will not recognize a third party administrator for oversight of the grant,\u201d she said. In addition, Massy said, the income to the county for each project is only 2%, which amounts to around $381 a year. \u201cI don\u2019t think you can get anybody to give this program the interest it deserves at that price,\u201d Massy said. \u201cIf the person doesn\u2019t give you the oversight and run the program as it should be done, the county is going to end up with a program it is responsible for but has no authority over. My recommendation is to keep it in house.\u201d The board agreed to maintain the program as it is for now, until further investigation can be done as to the best way to handle it in the future. During the meeting, the board also approved the following: \u2022 The EMPG-S COVID-19 Supplemental grant application. \u2022 Updates to the county Insurance and New Employee Information policies. \u2022 A quote from Phelps Plumbing and Heating, Inc for the replacement of cast iron piping in the basement of the jail not to exceed $10,900. \u2022 The United Way Grant 2021 application for Commission on Aging. \u2022 The Tyler Technologies Software Service agreement for the Register of Deeds department.