As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise locally and across Florida, one Panhandle city is taking action.
Milton Mayor Heather Lindsey says a state of emergency has existed there since Monday, following declarations by Gulf Breeze and Santa Rosa County. Under the city code, the mayor of Milton has the authority to make such a declaration for 72 hrs. Beyond that require City Council approval. Lindsey and the council met in emergency session Monday night, with the council agreeing to extend it to April 30.
“It includes the cancellation of all city meetings, but for the April 14 City Council meeting,” said Lindsey. “Under our charter, we are to gather the 2nd Tuesday of every month. However, we will be doing this – I hope everyone will be doing it remotely – and not actually coming to city hall.”
The switch is still on for all essential city functions -- public works, water/sewer/gas, sanitation, police, fire, first responders, finance, public information and administration. Customers are urged to pay at www.miltonfl.org; online payment fees have been waived.
“We’ve been following the governor’s executive order; we are, of course, aware that a state of emergency has already been declared by him,” Lindsey said. “And as are other local governments in the area declaring states of emergency, we knew it was incumbent upon us to provide a consistent message.”
The lobby at Milton City Hall is closed, but the drive-thru window remains open for business. The “reduction in essential functions,” says the mayor, is based in part on the city’s emergency plan that was developed originally for hurricane response.
“But it includes a pandemic response plan that was recently created,” Lindsey said. “We are closed as far as our city facilities; all of our public restrooms are locked and we are trying to do everything we can to minimize anyone’s exposure, and to protect our employees.”
Milton’s public parks remain open as long as people practice social distancing. Lindsey says visitors must do so with caution.
“You cannot count on park equipment having been sanitized; so if someone wants to come to the park to put their kid in a swing and swing with their child, that’s fine,” said the mayor. “But please bring sanitizing wipes; please protect yourself and your family.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has expanded his executive order of no more than 10 people congregating on beaches, to include all public places. Lindsey says the police will disperse any such groups in the parks. Milton’s Riverwalk along the Blackwater River is open, but under the same rules. The governor also made it easier for elected panels to conduct business while members keep their distance.
“The governor had issued an executive order on Friday, excusing the physical presence of elected officials to constitute a quorum to do city business,” Lindsey said. “So his executive order allows us to protect each other in this way.”
Milton’s declaration does not impose a curfew or a shelter-in-place order. But it does encourage residents to limit movements to necessary trips only. Mayor Heather Lindsey’s message to the residents of Milton is to make every effort to avoid an outbreak.
“By slowing ourselves down, limiting our contacts so that if we can avoid spreading it to someone else, then we do so,” said Lindsey. “And we have to take care of our 1st responders and our health care professionals by taking care of ourselves at home as much as we can.”
The emergency decree also opens the door for Milton to apply for state and federal financial aid, to help recover losses caused by the pandemic.