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Unicoi board adjusts to COVID-19

Sue Guinn Legg • Apr 20, 2020 at 11:21 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s first online meeting since the coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown was dominated by updates on the many ways the crisis has impacted the town and its surrounding community.

Conducted on an online meeting platform and streamed live on the town’s YouTune channel, the meeting began with a mayoral proclamation of the necessity of conducting the meeting online.

The proclamation was followed by the board's unanimous authorization of a 38-page document detailing procedures through which all of the town’s electronic meetings will be conducted going forward.

With only a few items of business on a very light agenda squared away quickly, news of the impact the COVID-19 outbreak has had in Unicoi spilled over in several departmental and committee reports.

Alderman Kathy Bullen, who represents the town on the Unicoi County Animal Control Board, reported the animal shelter is closed and applying for federal relief money to pay some of the workers who are coming in to feed and care for the animals.

Lee Manning, director of Unicoi’s Mountain Harvest Kitchen, reported the regional food business incubator is still open and hoping to stay that way for as long as possible.

While all but two of the events on the kitchen's normally robust schedule of classes and presentations were canceled due to stay-at-home orders, the kitchen’s food processing and food storage usage has remained consistent.

Although the outbreak has caused several of the kitchen’s entrepreneurial clients to pivot what they were doing or temporarily put their businesses on hold, Manning said the kitchen’s rentals are beginning to come back and are now at about two-thirds of the level they were at pre-COVID .

She said a $2,500 grant from the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County has allowed one small business working out of the kitchen to pay its employees and remain in business. And a contract with the Area Agency on Aging and Disability has allowed another of the kitchen’s small business clients to deliver Meals on Wheels and stay in business that way through the end of December.

Ashley Shelton, Unicoi’s communications and programs coordinator, reported that a total of four large, special events sponsored by the town have now fallen victim to the COVID-19 outbreak. The canceled events include the town’s annual Fiddler’s and Fiddleheads Festival, Old Fashioned Easter at the Cabin, the Wayne Scott Strawberry fest and a British car show that was previously scheduled for May.

Shelton said she is hopeful the town’s weekly farmers market, community yard sales and movies in the park can resume as scheduled in June.

Town Recorder Debbie Kinsler told the board members their work on the annual budget is scheduled to begin in May with two work sessions to be conducted online and also with special social distancing accommodations to allow the mayor and aldermen to look over the numbers together.

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