Clayton talks revenues, social distancing in coronavirus town hall

Clayton officials said Friday the county could come up short on revenue next year because of the coronavirus pandemic and that they worry about the mental health of seniors isolated because of social distancing.

During a virtual town hall meeting with residents of the south metro Atlanta community, Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said the county is in the middle of preparing its budget for fiscal 2021 and it could be a tough year.

“We already have a number of shortfalls that we have to deal with simply because of this pandemic,” he said. “We’re down in sales tax, nobody’s buying anything, businesses are closed, court fines are down.”

The county’s fiscal challenges were just one of several topics in the hour-long town hall, the first for the community since the coronavirus spread earlier this year. Residents, who submitted questions to leaders in advance, queried officials about the availability of safety equipment for emergency services personnel, how evictions are being handled during the crisis and if the county can help businessowners who have had to shut down to comply with “shelter in place” ordinances.

Magistrate Court Chief Judge Wanda Dallas said that evictions have been put on hold during the pandemic and that the judiciary was trying to work to lessen the impact the disease is having on displacing residents.

“Landlords are still filing dispossessories but our clerk is holding them,” she said. “They are not serving dispossessory petitions that they receive.”

The leaders said they also are concerned about the county’s Meals on Wheels program, which delivers food to seniors, though it was not clear if they trouble was a lack of drivers or social distancing. Turner said the program is important because it sometimes is the only contact seniors may have during the pandemic.

Clayton Fire Department Chief Landry Merkison said the county’s first responders have been well taken care of, both with personal protective equipment or PPE and efforts to make sure they don’t get sick in the line of duty. On Monday, the county hopes to begin using 19 ultraviolet sanitizing cabinets that the department built to sanitize the hard-to-find N95 face masks so that they can be reused safely.

“The citizens of this county can sleep well at night knowing that they are in very good hands,” he said.