Officials say the City of Salem is still open for business, but the options for paying utility bills have changed (temporarily) following discussion at last week’s board of aldermen meeting about minimizing public contact during the nationwide COVID-19 crisis.

City Administrator Ray Walden issued the following statement on March 17:

“Starting today we’ve posted a sign on the front door of the admin building that our lobby is currently closed in response to the coronavirus.”

The post mentions using the drive-thru or drop box for utility payments and to call 729-4117, email, or visit the Facebook page for all other needs, the statement concluded.

At the meeting, Walden said he was encouraging citizens paying utility bills to use the drive-thru, phone or email “out of an abundance of caution,” but stopped short of asking for approval to close the admin building lobby.

“We have a lot of people that come into the admin building since we don’t have restrictions, so coming to the admin building could put you at risk,” he said. “We try to monitor staff and be prudent with that, but we can’t control who comes in our door.”

Alderwoman Kim Steelman, the board president, asked what type of business couldn’t be conducted through the drive-thru. City Clerk Mary Happel said setting up new utility service through the drive-thru takes some time, but can be done.

Steelman said it wouldn’t be a bad idea to close the lobby for the time being if the drive-thru or other means can be used instead. “To minimize risk, we need to be doing whatever we can right now,” she said. Walden said he would post a notice closing the lobby until further notice.

“We can start there,” he said. “The governor is having weekly conference calls that some of us are sitting in on as our situation evolves. If we feel there’s other steps we could or should take, I will bring that to you,” he told the board. “We will do what we can.”

Wineries and Meaderies

In other business, aldermen cleared the way for wineries, microbreweries and meaderies to operate as a conditional use in commercial districts and a permitted use in industrial districts.

The board adopted two ordinances by a 3-1 vote that amend current city codes regulating businesses that produce alcoholic beverages. The ordinances contain language that closely reflects state requirements for licensing these types of businesses.

The ordinances enact regulations and define wineries, microbreweries and meaderies along with adding them to the list of conditional uses in a commercial district and a permitted use in an industrial district.

A domestic winery is defined as a business producing up to 500,000 gallons of wine, mead or brandy per year from ingredients grown or produced in Missouri. Mead is a fermented drink made from a diluted honey mixture.

A microbrewery is defined as a business that brews and sell less than 10,000 barrels of beer per year. The microbrewery ordinance also has a classification that defines a restaurant microbrewery/domestic winery/meadery as a food and beverage retail use where beer, wine or mead is brewed or fermented on the premises.

It includes tasting and consumption on the premises and packaging for retail sales for off-premises consumption. Production is limited to 10,000 barrels a year for beer and 2,000 barrels a year for wine and mead.

The Salem Planning & Zoning Commission discussed the ordinances earlier in the evening and voted 3-3 on recommending them to aldermen for approval. The board adopted both ordinances with alderman Kenneth Nash casting the lone dissenting vote each time. Nash said he objected to increased package liquor sales in Salem.

Before the vote, P&Z chairman Gary Brown said some commission members were concerned about Sunday package sales of the wine, mead and beer produced, the provision allowing 500,000 gallons of wine, mead and brandy to be produced annually, and changes contained in the finalized ordinances.

P&Z members complained that the ordinance was not the same as the set of restrictions and requirements for a meadery that they proposed back in November. Sally Burbridge, economic developer, explained that commissioners “wanted to approve this meadery with these conditions but didn’t have the ordinance framework for that to go into,” at the November meeting.

It was City Attorney James Weber’s opinion that, despite P&Z’s failure to recommend the ordinances for approval, the board could adopt them with a two-thirds majority.

Fire Hydrant Saver

It took a tiebreaking vote by Mayor Brad Nash to approve the purchase of a fire hydrant saver, an impact excavating device to pull fire hydrants out of the ground for rebuilding purposes. Aldermen Kevin James and Kenneth Nash voted in favor while Steelman and Alderwomen Rachel Hinderliter voted against the purchase.

Only one bid was received, a $12,155 proposal by Schulte Supply of Edwardsville, Missouri, a sole source provider for the equipment. Public Works Director Mark Nash said city crews can rebuild the hydrants for about $400 while new ones cost up to $7,000. Vendors he contacted were only interested in selling new hydrants, not rebuilding old ones, he said.

Nash described the device as a long tube with ears that catch on the hydrant before generating impact that breaks it loose. Schulte has demonstrated the equipment for his department, he said.

“We’ve got four right now we’ve got to get up and get fixed,” he said. “We replace three or four a year… Once the unit is bought, it’ll pay for itself pretty quick.”

Steelman asked if the purchase could wait until the city goes through the process for the new budget that starts July 1. Walden said the item is already in this year’s budget at $13,000. Steelman asked if the items prioritized above it had been purchased. Walden went through the list and said most had been purchased or were in progress.

“I’m going to vote no right now because there are some higher priorities that need to get done,” Steelman said. “I think this is something we can bring back to be budgeted for next year.” Her vote made it 2-2 and the mayor broke the tie by voting yes.

Liability Insurance

The board also voted to leave the Midwest Public Risk insurance pool and seek bids for workman’s compensation, property and liability insurance.

Happel said the city’s broker, Connell Insurance, had been looking for other options and found a company, HCC, that offered a plan that would save the city about $25,000 and also offers lower deductibles. The city had to leave the MPR pool by March 31 or be penalized.

“We’ve been asking our existing carrier for a quote before this deadline and it’s not been forthcoming,” Walden said.

In other action, the board:

Approved an ordinance annexing property at 1805 S. Main owned by the Charles and Janet Cunningham Trust. The 5.6-acre tract currently houses Tiny’s Automotive and is next to South-Town Furniture.

Approved the reappointment of Rose Kinerk to a four-year term on the Salem Housing Authority effective Feb. 16.