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Snow plows summoned

Winter arrived with enough force to summon snow plows from their shelters to the streets of Preston and around the county over the weekend. It was followed by rain in the valley, which diminished the snowpack. Over a foot of snow accumulated in the mountainous areas of the county.

Preston City hears FCMC update, approves 'PHS Drive'
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Local veterans were thanked by Preston Mayor Dan Keller during the Nov. 9 City Council meeting. “Our monument across the street at the courthouse gives you a real reflection, at least it does me, of the number of citizens from our area that served our country in the line of duty, and many of them gave their lives in doing that.”

He also noted the Preston High School Cross Boys Cross Country team’s recent state title, the girls’ team that finished a close second, and the West Side High School Volleyball team’s state title. City attorney Lyle Fuller’s son runs on the PHS Cross Country team and city police officer Scott Royer’s wife, Malinda, coaches the WS volleyball team. Keller’s daughter is Royer’s assistant coach.

He thanked members of the local fire department, ambulance crew and police department who escorted the teams into town.

The city then refunded half of a swale bond to Ryan Harris, and listened to an update on the Franklin County Medical Center.

“We have a very ambitious vision for FCMC. We want to be the absolute preferred provider for all medical services in our area. FCMC is the largest employer in the county and certainly in the city,” said Richard Westerberg, chairman of the FCMC Board of Directors.

Part of the FCMC’s vision is economics, he said. “To the extent that we can capture the medical services that we know are leaving our community and going other places then we will be able to add jobs, payroll, and all those good things to our community,” he said.

“Our facilities have not always been equivalent to our providers. For the last five or six years we’ve been in an aggressive movement to add quality brick and mortar facilities,” he said, listing them:

1- business center and offices and attached clinic — expanded by over 2000 feet at cost of $2 million with a fair amount of help from Preston City and Franklin county

2- the purchase and conversion of a building on state street into a “world class physical therapist center” with the help of Idaho Elks.

3 — construction of a 14,000 square foot surgery center with “all bells and whistles of any surgery center in the area.”

4- hired Lance R. Bryce as a general surgeon. “We know we were losing some general surgery patients from the community — especially those coming in on an emergency basis. Now that Dr. Bryce is here he can service those patients here.”

5- Acquired the chiropractic center on State Street and converted it into an upgrade home health center.

6- Moving ahead with an office facility. FCMC administration currently occupies about 5,000 square feet over at the Willow Valley Clinic “which is woefully inadequate for providers,” said Westerberg. He noted that hospital administrators had plans to meet with an architect to begin designing a 12-14,000 square foot office building that will be adjacent and attached to the existing hospital to the north.

“All this to improve medical services in our area. We will have facilities and practitioners to match anyone around,” he said. Westerberg then noted that COVID — 19 “is a real deal” and has had a significant effect on the facility.

“We have had to make some changes, certainly with personnel. All are getting bone weary. We are not whining — it is in our job description to respond and our staff has worked diligently to be as ready as can be,” he said.

Hospital CEO Darrin Dransfield elaborated on FCMC’s response to COVID-19.

“I could not be more pleased with our response,” he said. FCMC was recently noted as one of the top 100 hospitals in the nation. It has received that award for the last five years and Dransfield attributed that to the vision of the board and quality of employees and providers at FCMC.

“We have continued to perform surgeries successfully and safely, continued to see normal patient levels and service lines,” he said. But he also acknowledged that COVID-19 fatigue “is a real thing in our hospital. We are asking practitioners and other staff members to work sometimes two jobs,” he said. FCMC has had 25 employees out due to COVID-19 over the last five weeks. “Our concern is keeping staff necessary to take care of patients,” he said.

Dransfield said he is working with state resources and other entities to keep providers and patients safe. “This week, we tested 472 people of which 45 people tested positive,” he said. He noted that the hospital administers four different coronavirus test options, three locally and the fourth through IHC (Intermountain Health Centers). Some test results are available within 15 minutes to an hour.

The hospital’s main concern is capacity, he said. Because of the HVAC system its current capacity for COVID patients is three. “We can not exceed that without jeopardizing the health of the providers,” he said. Dransfield said he keeps an eye on Portuneuf Medical Center and tertiary response hospitals to ascertain the level of support available to local patients.

Portneuf has a capacity of 32 patients and was at 28 when Dransfield spoke to the city council. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center has a capacity of 42 patients, averaging 36 patients. “We need to transfer patients once in a while,” so determining what to do if the facility is no longer able to do that is a concern.

FCMC has three rooms that can be sealed off for the treatment of the pandemic and at the time of the meeting was at capacity. The facility’s HVAC system prevents any other room from being sealed off for that purpose.

“We are making it, but if things got worse that’s our concern. Our plea to the public is to continue to watch and follow South East Idaho Public Health recommendations for infection control measures. Tell families that their decision affects caregivers and caregivers’ decisions affect patients,” he said. Councilman Todd Thomas continued to drive that point home.

Mayor Keller gave a shoutout to front line workers and encouraged keeping communications lines open.

Businesses licenses were approved for door to door sales of Energy Savers Insulation to interested customers.

Scott Palmer received approval for a variance that would require less water shares for his commercial subdivision on the north end of State Street, than is required for residential subdivisions. The city code needs to be updated to differentiate requirements needed between commercial subdivisions and residential subdivisions, because they don’t need the water that residential ones do.

Beer/wine licenses were approved for Bajarangi Sunstop Inc. doing business as Last Chance Store #8 at 193 North State Wine and Bajarangi Muststop Inc. doing businesses as Last Chance Store #9 at 113 North State. Liquor would be consumed off-premises.

The council was excited about a proposal by Preston High School Senior Selyce Burnett who wants to rename the section of 200 South in front of Preston High School, “PHS Drive.”

“I wish I’d thought of it myself,” said Mayor Keller.

Burnett is planning a fund-raiser to help pay for the sign and has already contacted the city’s public works for help to put up the signs and directions on how to get the sign made. She wants the sign to be blue with “PHS Drive” with a “P” at the end.

“I would really like to leave Preston High with this because I’ve developed drive there,” she said.

The council supported the idea unanimously and with enthusiasm.

“I’m shocked it took this long for the idea ... I love it,” said Thomas.

He then told the council that a new sign is in the works for Craner Field, there is still sod that needs to be removed there and the old flag pole and benches have been removed. New are ordered. Plans for a walking path have started and are estimated to cost between $30 and 40,000. Thomas is talking to local service clubs for support in paying for that, hoping that work will begin in the spring.

Councilman Thomas noted that rec basketball will take place and begin in January. Alecia Robertson is the rec board director and registration forms being distributed.

Dayton allows for school expansion without public hearing

While whittling down candy leftover from the Fourth of July parade the Dayton City Council discussed a building permit for the new addition at the elementary school. There were two major issues. The first of which was the definition of a water hookup. Superintendent Spencer Barzee, who was at the meeting to hear this decision, was functioning under the assumption that a water hookup was any metered connection used for drinking and culinary use. The question arose when it was noted that the new addition must be connected to the city’s six-inch main pipe to supply it with fire suppression. Whether that counted as a “water hookup” or simply as a type of fire hydrant was answered by the decision that a fire hydrant would not be metered like a drinking water hookup and that it would not be used except in cases of emergency.

Councilman Stacy Moser questioned Barzee extensively about the system and the construction schedule. According to Barzee the addition is planned to be mostly completed by August 2022 with the cafeteria and multipurpose room ready for use. By that time it is possible that the city will have at least one new well online. Aaron Beutler, the engineer in charge of the city’s water project, reported to the council that at present, everything is on track to have a production well drilled by spring 2022. That would enable the city to lift, or at least loosen, the current ban on new water hookups. It should be noted that this timeline is valid only if nothing goes wrong with either project.

The other issue concerning the building permit was whether or not to approve it as a Class 1 or Class 2 permit. Class 2 permits require the council to hold a public hearing, send letters to the owners of the neighboring properties and a formal review of the plans by an expert. A Class 1 permit doesn’t have those requirements. On this point the council was split down the middle.

Those in favor of the Class 2 permit were Councilmen Dee Beckstead and Moser, who felt that because the new addition to the elementary is going to be larger than the current elementary and the principle of the matter, the new construction should be considered a new building. For reference, the elementary is 16,000 square feet and the addition will be 36,000 square feet. Beckstead hopes that a public hearing will pacify the citizens and reduce any potential public outrage over the possible perception that the council was giving the school board carte blanche.

Councilwomen Anna Mae Ward and Lain Telford favored the Class 1 permit. Telford countered Beckstead’s concerns saying that naysayers would exist even with the hearing, and the need for the elementary expansion was too great to say “No,” to. She also believes that the addition, regardless of size, is still attached to the current elementary building, which was built in 1989, and therefore qualify’s for the Class 1 permit.

According to current city codes any new large freestanding structures such as a school or church must have a Class 2 permit, be that for a new addition or completely new building. There is one proviso to this regulation though. Any addition or modification to any existing structure built before 2006 only requires a Class 1 permit. All three school buildings were built and completed before that deadline.

Richard Reeder, of Dayton’s Planning and Zoning, referenced plans for a future new high school that the school board has been mulling over. Out of precedence — when the West Side auditorium was built it only required a Class 1 permit, Telford stated that since the school would be a free standing structure built after 2006 it would be subject to the need for a Class 2 permit.

With the council split, the deciding vote fell to Mayor Melvin Beutler who chose to shelve the matter until the end of the meeting while he considered it. Then, citing that the elementary was an addition and not a free standing structure, the project was granted a Class 1 permit.

That out of the way, there is another major issue that is looming on the horizons for the city. The Fiber Optic internet company, Direct Communications, that is laying cable throughout the city, is far from done and the ground is freezing. At present, none of it is connected and some of it is even still above ground, as it is in front of the Dayton City building.

Dayton is not alone as Direct Communications is behind in other towns as well. They have until December 15 to complete the project, the problem is how do they define completion? In order to qualify for the grant they have to complete one speed test for the entire city to get their money. If they don’t they could go bankrupt and leave the city with a lot of brightly colored conduit sticking out of the ground. The company has promised that they will be finished by Dec. 1.

PRINT ONLY Idaho rolls back to modified Stage 2 (copy)

Governor Little announced Friday his plans to roll back the state to a modified Stage Two of the Idaho Rebounds Plan. The reason for rolling back to Stage 2 was due to the spike in cases statewide, an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the burden being placed on Idaho’s health care system over the last few weeks.

“We’re going back into a modified mode of the original Idaho Rebounds Order,” said Maggie Mann, Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s Executive Director. “COVID-19 continues to be a serious illness. It is critical we take this step back in attempt to limit the spread of the virus.”

Southeast Idaho cases continue to increase. To date, Southeastern Idaho Public Health reports 6,981 cases and 58 deaths in its eight-county region. Five of those deaths have occurred in Franklin County — one of them reported on Nov. 13.

“The volume of new cases is very concerning. The number of cases over the last two weeks has increased significantly from the prior two-week period,” said Mann. On Oct. 13, 91 active cases of CIVID-19 were reported in Franklin County. That has been the highest local count on any one day since the pandemic began. Two weeks ago, on Oct. 31, the count was 69. Numbers got down to 51 on Nov. 4, then jumped to 69 on Nov. 6, before dropping to 42 by Nov. 9. They spiked again on Nov. 13 with 27 new cases.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings in public places, staying home if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and washing your hands. Your actions can help to protect you, your family and your community,” said Mann.

Stage Two of the Idaho Rebounds Plan takes effect on Nov. 14, limiting social gatherings both public and private to 10 people including attendance at extracurricular activities such as sporting events. Patrons of bars, night clubs and restaurants must remain seated. All long-term care facilities must require that masks be worn on their premises. However, businesses and worship services remain open.

At Preston High School, a waiver allowing for 300 people to attend sports and 150 to the school’s musical, “Anastasia,” was received last week. That waiver will remain in effect until Nov. 22.

“In the meantime, we will continue to investigate any avenue we can to provide safe, healthy ways for spectators to participate in the extra-curricular activities at the school,” said Preston School District Superintendent Marc Gee.

“While we work on ways to provide spectators with opportunities to participate, we would ask that all those who attend events between now and Nov. 22, wholly observe the requirements we have put in place. It will be a much stronger argument if it is clear that those attending events are doing their best to meet the safety guidelines we have put in place,” he said.

The rollback to Stage 2 makes no change to day-to-day operations in the West Side School District, said Superintendent Spencer Barzee.

“Unfortunately, our efforts to date have not slowed the spread. It’s up to all of us, and the choices we make every day, to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Mann. “It’s more important than ever for the people of southeastern Idaho to choose to adopt these precautions – if not for their own sake, then for the vulnerable, like the elderly and those with underlying conditions.”

COVID-19 is not the only illness causing problems in Franklin County. Fifty percent of the COVID-19 tests being administered locally are false, with an average of 18 percent positivity over the last month. Strains of the flu and cold are also making people sick. The county’s goal is to have just five percent of the tests for COVID-19 be positive.

The rise in cases has caused a lot of overtime and stress on local health care workers, said Darin Dransfield, CEO of Franklin County Medical Center in a report to the Preston City Council on Nov. 9.

“COVID-19 fatigue is a real thing in our hospital. We are asking practitioners and other staff to work sometimes two jobs,” he said. We are working with state resources and other entities to keep employees safe and patients safe. This week (Nov. 2-6), we tested 472 people of which 45 people tested positive, he said.

Dransfield said the hospital is well equipped to handle any testing cases, and have four options: all considered moderate to very reliable in regards to results.

But he is concerned about the hospital’s capacity to treat seriously ill and contagious patients as there are only four beds that are sealed off from the rest of the building: three for patients and one for staff treating them. “Because of the HVAC system our current capacity for COVID-19 patients is three. We can not exceed that without jeopardizing the health of the providers,” he said. Over the last five weeks, 25 staff members have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, he told city officials.

So in regards to the pandemic, FCMC is currently at capacity with three patients. Emergency and elective surgeries and treatments are still being conducted in the hospital’s other rooms.

Mosquito abatement revisited at Franklin City Council meeting

A dozen interested citizens packed Franklin City’s offices Wed., Nov. 11, to listen and ask questions during the mosquito abatement discussion. Stewart Burbank represented Franklin County and Nate Hill represented Adapco, which sells the spray used to treat mosquitoes and their larvae. Together they laid out the county abatement procedures and fielded questions from the group.

Demonstrating a live trap, they pinpointed the four Franklin locations of use: Parkinson Road by the bridge, Legacy, Maple Creek, and near Lynn Womack’s property. In addition, ponds in the area are regularly tested for the larvae.

Thresholds must be met before treatment can begin, calling for the capture of 25 to 50 mosquitoes for two consecutive nights in order for spraying to begin. The county only fogs after dusk to allow for bees to be back in their hives, and citizens can request no fogging near individual homes if there is a concern.

Hill indicated that permethrin is the active ingredient used to eradicate mosquitos, but it only amounts to about one ounce per acre in the spray, and there is no residual harm on foliage the next day. The same insecticide is used in fly sprays, flea collars, and lice shampoos.

Burbank noted that the county only sprayed in Franklin on Tuesday evenings – additionally, the city had sprayed on Thursdays and Saturdays. This year was a light year for mosquitoes, probably due to the dry weather, and concern was expressed that the additional spraying was not needed.

West Nile Virus has only been discovered on one mosquito tested in Franklin, and that was three years ago. The city has pledged to communicate more frequently with the county to coordinate test results and spraying schedules. The goal is to achieve a better balance between prevention and treatment in 2021.

CAPSA Education Coordinator, Ashley Sorenson, reviewed the upward trends in their hotline calls, shelter needs, and overall domestic abuse since COVID-19 hit. Sorenson expressed gratitude to the city for making citizens aware of these services, and offered educational and awareness plans.

City Administrator, Tami Midzinski, requested approval of $150 to submit a grant application to Local Highway Technical Assistance Council (LHTAC) for $100,000 to chip seal Second East to Highway 91, and the loop from First Street to Third. In addition, the Transportation Study (Resolution 2020-11-11) needed to be approved to assist with that request. Both were approved.

The six necessary volunteers have not stepped forward to allow Franklin City to move ahead with the Fire Station. The search goes on ... anyone interested should check in at the city offices for further information.

The city did not elect to renew the contract with the Sheriff’s department for additional surveillance in 2021.

Councilman Corey Richards, along with his wife, Brooke, and son, Bryson, have moved to Logan. Mayor Hawkes will be presenting names to the council for someone to fill that vacancy until the next civic election.

Franklin County death attributed to COVID-19 (copy)

Southeastern Idaho Public Health (SIPH) confirmed two deaths associated with COVID-19 on Nov. 12.

One is a female in her 50’s from Franklin County and the other is a male in his 80’s from Bannock County.

This brings the total to 63 deaths due to COVID-19 in southeast Idaho, four of which were in Franklin County. Out of respect to these individuals’ families, no additional details will be released.

There are currently 79 active cases of the disease in Franklin County, a number that has increased significantly over the 51 reported on Nov. 4. As of Monday, there have been 409 confirmed cases and 102 probable cases; 432 people have recovered from the disease and 14 people have been hospitalized. Twenty-five healthcare workers have been infected — three currently.

SIPH urges all residents to take precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19. This includes practicing social distancing at all times, wearing cloth face coverings in public places, practicing good hand hygiene, and isolating immediately if you show symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

People with these symptoms MAY have COVID-19:

• Fever or chills

• Cough

• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

• Fatigue

• Muscle or body aches

• Headache

• New loss of taste or smell

• Sore throat

• Congestion or runny nose

• Nausea or vomiting

• Diarrhea

County raises roll-off rent; East Oneida work progresses

At the Franklin County Commissioner meeting on Nov. 9, The Oneida Stake Academy Foundation requested storage space which was approved. OSAF chairman Saundra Hubbard requested a location to store a large amount of granite until it can be used in the restoration of the academy building. The granite was donated by State Stone in Murray.

Sheriff Fryar was up next wanting clarification on how to best utilize the funds provided through an agreement with the Forest Service for law enforcement in Forest Service areas. The funds will help pay for officers patrolling areas accessible by forest service roads and some vehicle wear and tear.

The Senior Citizen Center was next on the agenda with a request to add a vehicle to the county insurance citing growth in the meals on wheels program requiring more routes. The number of meals they serve has about doubled, averaging 2,317 a month for June through October. The Chairman of the Board, Bob Purser, also noted that the directors of the center are on the lookout for a new vehicle. The commissioners approved the request for insurance and decided to look into using available funds for COVID-19 related expenses to cover the new vehicle.

A request from Steve Fuller for $100 for more courthouse Christmas lights was approved as well as a $500 donation to the Elks Lodge Christmas baskets.

Stacy Rindlisbaker brought the Samera Health Insurance Administrative Contract and Pharmacy Benefit Management Agreement before the commissioners for approval. The agreement authorizes the transfer of information between the entities of Samara and Motive Health. The agreement was approved and the commissioners asked for a comparison of the costs between the previous program and the current program.

Treasurer Janet Kimpton passed onto the commissioners a request from patrons for a dropbox for payments which could also be used for ballots during elections. After some discussion of security measures and location, the request was approved, but a location is yet to be determined.

Troy Moser updated the commissioners on the progress of landfill improvements noting that there will be a meeting to discuss the Cascade Earth Sciences (CES) report. He also requested that waste roll-off fees be adjusted. To cover current expenses, the commissioners agreed to raise contracted containers from $150 to $200 and other rentals from $200 to $300 for 10 days.

Moser updated the commissioners on the raising of the road on Oneida. The surface has been stable allowing progress. The membrane is down, buffer sand is being added and they hope to have guardrails before the end of November.

His crew has also been keeping tabs on the work done by Direct Communications as they put in fiber optic cable and noting where depth adjustments have been necessary. They have also been overseeing the work on the building Direct Communications is preparing to erect according to the land lease agreement with the county.

The request for reimbursement for airport runway work was approved as was the 2020 State Homeland Security Program Agreement which is a yearly contract.

The motion to canvas election vote was approved and it was noted that 80-90% turnout has been recorded for the last two elections.

A retail alcoholic beverage license was approved for the Elks Lodge.