City defaults to governor's statewide order
San Marcos has defaulted to Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide emergency order after Mayor Jane Hughson’s expired Wednesday.
The San Marcos City Council discussed options for a new emergency ordinance at a special called meeting Tuesday but ultimately took no action. By default, the City of San Marcos is now under Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra’s order and Abbott’s stay-at-home order issued earlier Tuesday through the end of the month.
The city council intended on creating a new ordinance after Hughson’s expired on April 1 that mirrors Hays County's newest emergency order and would consider adding further public health safeguards for essential businesses, however, Abbott’s newest statewide emergency order essentially overrides any city orders that are in conflict with the state order.
Abbott issued a statewide stay-at-home order for all Texans except employees working in more than 12 essential industries, including religious organizations, although he encourages church services to be held remotely. At the news conference Tuesday, Abbott said local officials "still have flexibility to impose standards that they consider to be more strict" as long as they do not conflict with his latest executive order.
San Marcos Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp and council members did not have time to review the 15-page document which was issued right before the meeting to understand what safeguards may be in conflict with the governor’s order. Council discussed options regardless and may implement new orders at a later date after reviewing how they might conflict with the state order.
Council discussed requiring additional sanitizer stations at gas station doors and pumps or requiring that doors remain propped open, occupancy limits for smaller stores, taping off 6-feet markers on the floor of essential businesses and promoting reducing social interactions by 90% instead of using confusing terms like “social distancing.”
Hughson has issued the “Don’t Touch It” poster campaign to get the message across by education rather than regulation, which may continue to be the main policy option for council after the statewide order.
“Every time you touch a public surface, you have to assume it may have been touched by someone who is a carrier,” Hughson said.
Stapp delivered an update on the city’s response to COVID-19 stating there are nine active cases in San Marcos and two recovered. Research coming out of China has found that the false-negative test rate is around 30% and so anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should assume they have the virus and take appropriate precautions, according to a New York Times article. Recovered cases should assume they are still carriers and take precautions as well.
Multiple state assistance requests are pending including one to set up a drive-through testing site and another to obtain Clorox 360 sanitizer devices to sanitize city vehicles.
The city is researching options to support people experiencing homelessness with restrooms and showers. They are also finalizing arrangements for quarantined first responders and hospital overflow rooms. Stapp said, “They should be ready very quickly, but we pray we won’t need them.”
The city is offering assistance by waiving utility bill late fees and will not be disconnecting services for nonpayment. So far 16 residential customers and 34 commercial accounts have reached out for assistance.
The city is still analyzing whether to reallocate CDBG funding which would have to be made through an amendment, whether to promote certain Federal grant and loan programs and whether to focus on federally-funded programs before General Fund revenues which could affect staffing levels.
In other business, council repealed the ordinance that called a special election on May 2 to fill Place 5 Councilmember Joca Marquez’s seat. The new ordinance states that they will have to call the special election at a later date.
Next week’s council meeting will consider an emergency ordinance requiring landlords to provide notice to wait 90 days after nonpayment before moving forward with eviction. They will also consider whether to raise the city manager’s spending authority to $500,000 during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether to waive late fees for nonpayment of Hotel Occupancy Taxes.
There will be a discussion on a budget amendment for purchasing test kits and personal protective equipment for residents.