Public buildings start patchwork reopening
Many government offices in the Des Moines metro remain closed seven months into spread of the coronavirus in Iowa, but some cities are finding creative ways to continue offering services to residents.
Some have formed curbside library checkouts. Others are offering in-person appointments for those who need help — as long as people get a temperature screening and wear a mask.
But mask requirements differ between cities. Some cities such as West Des Moines strongly encourage face coverings but don’t require them in city buildings. Other cities including Des Moines have mandated face coverings in their buildings, even though the public can’t access those offices quite yet.
Here’s how some cities and counties are managing their buildings and services:
Administrative buildings in the capital city — including City Hall, the Municipal Service Center and public works buildings — will remain closed until at least Dec. 1. Mayor Frank Cownie first signed an emergency proclamation closing public buildings on March 17, and has since extended that order.
The buildings will remain off-limits “until we see a consistent, sustained decrease in the number of positive cases across the state and specifically here in Polk County,” the mayor said last month. He has also signed an ordinance requiring masks in public spaces including city buildings, although police are not enforcing it with fines.
The city furloughed 161 employees in the spring, mostly library staff, city spokesperson Al Setka said in an email. About 20 additional part-time city employees had their hours reduced, he said. No full-time staffers were permanently laid off.
By the end of the month, he expects less than two-dozen employees to still be furloughed or have reduced hours.
Downtown’s Central Library is open for limited browsing and other in-person services such as public computer use from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Other branches plan to offer similar services starting Oct. 13.
The city continues to offer most of its normal services but, in many cases, residents need to reach out to a specific department via phone or email to request help or schedule a meeting. Check the city’s website for a complete list of service changes and contact information, or call 515-283-4500.
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West Des Moines
Unlike Des Moines, many West Des Moines buildings are open to the public. The city encourages mask use and provides them for anyone inside City Hall, the Public Services office, Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge, the Valley Junction Activity Center and library, a city spokesperson said.
Some offices, such as the Human Services Department, are open by appointment only.
Public safety buildings, such as West Des Moines fire stations, remain closed to any visitors, including tours. However, the Fire Administration Office, 3221 Ashworth Road, is open to the public.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t resulted in layoffs at the city, spokesperson Lucinda Stephenson said.
The Parks and Recreation Department “furloughed 38 intermittent/temp/seasonal employees last summer when the aquatic centers were not open for public swimming or certain recreation programs or activities were cancelled,” she wrote in an email. But there haven’t been any additional layoffs for cuts because of COVID-19, she said.
More information about how to access city services during the pandemic can be found on the city’s website or by calling City Hall at 515-222-3600.
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Most Ankeny buildings, including City Hall, public services, police headquarters and fire stations, remain off-limits to the public.
The library, however, reopened in June with limited capacity and weekly curbside services each Sunday afternoon. Face coverings are required inside the library. Otter Creek Golf Course is also open.
Residents are able to access most services online or via phone, the city’s website says. It includes a list of contacts for each city department, some of which are accepting appointments.
In April, the city temporarily furloughed 54 part-time and seasonal employees in the parks and libraries departments, due to service interruptions at the onset of the pandemic, said city spokesperson Amy Baker.
“When the services connected to their work were restored, the city recalled these employees. No full-time staff were affected,” she wrote in an email.
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Urbandale extended its public building closures including City Hall through at least the end of this month. Some city buildings briefly reopened this summer, but have been closed again since the end of June.
Those who need to submit paperwork or payments to the city can use the drop box at the City Administration building, 3600 86th Street, the city’s website says.
The library also remains closed, but is offering curbside pickup and allowing residents to check out and renew books through the catalog or by phone, 515-278-3945. It also extended the expiration date for all library cards by six months.
The city is offering many of its other usual services online or via phone. Information on services, from home and building permits to recreational classes, can both be found on the city’s website, which also includes lists of local resources for individuals and businesses dealing with COVID-19.
Due to COVID-19 closures, the city furloughed about 70 employees, including 19 school crossing guards and substitute guards, 21 part-time library employees and 29 employees at the indoor swimming pool, according to city spokesperson Derek Zarn.
Urbandale plans to recall all affected employees except crossing guards, he said, because the city and its school district partners opted to contract that work out this school year.
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Polk County buildings remain closed, but most services are still available online and by phone.
One exception is the Treasurer’s Office, which recently opened for limited appointments due to the sometimes-complicated nature of title transfers.
As of last week, new Iowa residents and people who need to transfer a vehicle title can make an appointment for in-person help. To make an appointment, first make sure you have your paperwork ready. Then go to the Polk County Treasurer’s website and click the “appointment” tab. If you do not have internet service but need to make an appointment, call the vehicle division at 515-286-3030.
Polk County Treasurer Mary Maloney stands for a photo outside the Polk County administration building Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register)
The Polk County Recorder’s Office can be reached at 515-286-3160 and is processing mailed requests for certified copies of births, deaths, marriages and marriage applications.
The county has suspended U.S. Passport application services, according to its website. Those with questions should consult with the U.S. Department of State. Several other locations throughout Iowa continue to accept passport applications, according to the U.S. Department of State’s website.
Most real estate records can be viewed online at polkrecorder.com.
Jamila Tuka gets her temperature taken before her appointment with the Treasurer’s Office at the Polk County administration building Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register)
Warren County reopened its Administration Building to the public in September.
The county encourages people to wear masks indoors and is screening for high temperatures at the door, its website said.
While all county offices are open, many require people to make appointments. A list of departments and contacts can be found on the county’s website.
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Shelby Fleig covers Des Moines city government for the Register. Reach her at [email protected]
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