The Shelby County municipalities are still issuing states of emergencies despite COVID-19 cases declining and local mayors aren’t considering rescinding the orders.
At face value, the term “emergency” seems contradictory as the pandemic eases. Not only do leaders want people to remain cautious, but they also don’t want to miss out on any future government funds.
“We’re not doing anything special,” Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo said. “There’s nothing restrictive. We’re just keeping in line with the state.”
Gov. Bill Lee continues to issue executive orders and mayors in Shelby County have followed his direction by issuing locally oriented orders.
The emergency declarations are “limited,” and less extensive than those issued early in the pandemic, and in some ways are a formality to keep alive the possibility of additional funding.
Many mayors don’t want to risk missing state or federal money, including the American Rescue Plan Act dollars, although the local orders aren’t necessary to receive the funds.
“Having an emergency declaration in effect will have no impact,” John Dunn, communications director for the state Comptroller of the Treasury, said by email. “All Tennessee cities and counties will receive ARP money irregardless of whether those orders are in effect.”
Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo expects emergency declarations to continue in discussions among the mayors.
He wants to remain cautious and not jeopardize more funding, if made available, but also hopes it is “in the not too distant future.”
“At the current time, those have not been lifted at the federal, state or county level,” Palazzolo said.
Arlington town attorneys advised Mayor Mike Wissman to continue issuing the order as a “safe approach just in case.”
“Most of the conversation has been to have one as long as the state has a state of emergency,” he said, and plans to follow Lee’s lead.
Lakeland is taking a similar approach.
“We will continue to issue the Limited State of Emergency Declarations until the state of Tennessee Executive Order expires,” Shane Horn, city manager, said.
Efforts to reach Millington were unsuccessful.
Smaller municipalities are waiting for American Rescue Plan Act funds. During a June presentation in Collierville, state Comptroller Jason Mumpower said the state will distribute funds to municipalities 30 days after the money arrives from the federal government.
Memphis, Collierville and Bartlett received their funds straight from Washington D.C., based on a number of factors including population. Collierville and Bartlett received significantly less than early estimates.
“The pandemic is not over,” Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said of the town’s state of emergency. “We don’t want to do this prematurely.”
He discussed the matter with Nathan Bicks, town attorney, last week.
“It’s not hurting anything that we are issuing it,” Joyner said. “We’re being cautious. Why would we stop? It’s not costing anybody anything to issue it.”
There is some concern with the Delta variant and a reproductive rate approaching 1. Joyner wants to “stay the course.”
There is flexibility in the Collierville order, according to town ordinances. The mayor can authorize certain purchases, asking for board ratification instead of approval .
“We have used that very little, if we have used it at all,” Joyner noted.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald is looking to the governor as he reinstitutes that suburb’s state of emergency each week. The Bartlett order references the state’s direction and allows McDonald to make emergency purchases.
“I already have an agreement with the Board of Aldermen about that,” he said. “If we have an emergency purchase that is needed I go ahead and sign those contracts and then report to them in the next meeting.”
And like others, McDonald remains ready if any more funding is available.
“It is out of caution for us to be able to get federal and state funding to help the cost of things, the interruption of things, that the COVID pandemic brought,” McDonald said.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland also is aware of the funding aspect, according to Jennifer Sink, chief legal officer.
“The mayor has continued to issue a state of emergency at this stage of the pandemic in part to ensure that the city meets all conditions typically required to receive emergency disaster funds from the federal and state governments, namely (Federal Emergency Management Association).”
The order also gives Strickland purchasing power and allows staff to shift to viral mitigation measures.
“The mayor will continue to issue the executive orders as long as the use of city personnel is necessary to address COVID-19, such as vaccination programs and addressing the negative economic impacts caused by COVID-19,” Sink added.