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Dickinson shelves emergency declaration

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County on Thursday rescinded its emergency declaration for the coronavirus, although it can be reinstated if needed.

Pete Schlitt, the county’s emergency services coordinator, said the action won’t jeopardize funding, but keeps the county out of disputes if local municipalities seek to be more restrictive than the state’s measures.

A recent executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer loosens restrictions in northern Michigan but protects the power of local governments to impose their own business rules, Schlitt said. Rescinding the emergency declaration “means we’re staying on track with the executive order” while protecting against potential lawsuits, he told the county board Thursday.

The emergency declaration can be reinstated by Board Chairman Henry Wender at a moment’s notice, with later endorsement from the board, Schlitt said. The Dickinson-Iron District Health Department isn’t directly affected, as it has its own statutory powers, he added.

Meeting by teleconference, the county board voted 4-1 to accept Schlitt’s recommendation.

Commissioner Kevin Pirlot voted no after raising several questions, including the status of COVID-19 tests for area nursing home patients.

Schlitt said the testing is on hold because facilities have yet to receive enough kits.

A coronavirus emergency was first declared March 16 and the measure has twice been extended, most recently to June 8. Among other things, it has helped the county gain access to personal protective equipment.

In other action during the finance meeting, the board:

— Heard Controller Brian Bousley review a preliminary plan to brace for the potential loss of $1.5 million in state funding this year. Under that worst-case scenario, the county would be forced to tap about $700,000 from its general fund balance of $4.8 million.

Other savings would come from using CARES Act Airport Grant Program funds to recover up to $500,000 in Ford Airport operating costs; adjusting 911 dispatch funding; and leaving several county positions unfilled after upcoming retirements. Although there would be no layoffs, dipping into the fund balance should be avoided “unless we have to,” Bousley said.

— Encouraged social distancing at Lake Antoine Park, which isn’t set to open for day use until May 29. With the weather warming, the park is drawing visitors, although restrooms are not open and work continues on electrical updates at the campground. The opening of the campground is tentatively slated for June 22.

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