RIVER FALLS -- A lack of poll workers has resulted in consolidating two polling locations in River Falls as of March 30.

District 1 Wards 1-5 and 15, originally scheduled to vote at River Falls Public Library, are now set to vote at city hall lower level on Maple Street. People are encouraged to park in the Heritage Park lot across the street from city hall.

Around 40 poll workers declined to work as of March 27 according to city clerk Amy White. The city is encouraging people to sign up to work the polls and to request absentee ballots. Over 1,600 absentee ballots have been mailed as of March 27 and 400 have been returned.

Those interested in serving may contact White at awhite@rfcity.org.

The city has continued to adapt to the developing COVID-19 pandemic. Resources are being streamlined, businesses are problem-solving and community members are collaborating to adhere to prevention measures and new statewide orders from Gov. Tony Evers for closures and prohibitions including a March 23 stay-at-home order.

READ MORE: Wisconsin schools close, staff and students still working | Latest St. Croix County COVID-19 cases | Pierce County resident recovered from COVID-19

In a YouTube video March 13, mayor Dan Toland released a statement of reassurance to the people of River Falls and called for togetherness.

“I know there’s people out there that are scared, confused, panicking a little bit,” Toland said. “That’s OK. Those are natural things that are going to go through right now. But together we can do this... I just want to remind everybody we need to stay as calm as we can. But we need to be ever-vigilant in what we do, where we go and who we are with.”

River Falls resources roundup

Last updated at 2:15 p.m. March 30.

State of Emergency

The same evening Pierce County declared a state of emergency March 24, City Council also approved a resolution for a local emergency.

READ MORE: Pierce County supervisors meet to pass state of emergency

The declaration allows the mayor and/or city administrator to enact some of the following if necessary for the city:

  • Financial decisions regarding applying for aid, authorizing payments and budget adjustments and acting in place of the council for the purchasing policy.
  • Cancel city board, commission and committee meetings and hold only one city council meeting monthly through September 2020.
  • Determine how to use city resources for public assistance.
  • Allow public works contracts without notice or competitive bidding.

Police chief Gordon Young along with any designees or successors was appointed the head of emergency government to enact all orders, temporarily suspend or modify local ordinances and cooperate with other municipalities for resources.

The state of emergency will cease after the mayor signs a subsequent resolution.

The full text of the declaration can be found on the city's website.

City services, public safety functions

A March 13 city news release said city response teams have been mobilized to meet daily to prepare and implement plans to ensure that essential city services remain operational.

  • Police department lobby is closed until further notice, however public safety (including police, fire and EMS) and public works departments are still running and have, or will have, agreements with surrounding municipalities if responders or staff fall ill.

  • City buildings are closed to the public until further notice.

  • City services can be accessed on the River Falls city website (rfcity.org) or by phone (715-425-0900) instead of in-person. Residents can request permits, report potholes, learn how to schedule a special refuse pickup, fill out license applications and link to other helpful services on the city’s website.

    • If you are prompted for an account sign-in, use the following information email: rfmu@rfcity.org and password: RFCUST123

The city publishes updates on the City of River Falls Facebook page and also on the ‘Coronavirus COVID-19’ webpage available to the public on the city website under the ‘Government’ section.

Municipal court proceedings

As of March 24, all municipal court initial appearances are canceled through May and will be rescheduled to June 4, 2020. Pre-trial conferences will be conducted April 25 over the phone. Defendants should receive a letter in the mail. Contact the court if you have questions or do not receive a letter: 715-426-3429, or rfmunicourt@rfcity.org.

Utility department updates

Kevin Westhuis, utility director, posted a video on Facebook March 18 saying the municipal utilities are still running safely for use.

Water system remains safe and drinkable and human contact with the water is not present until it comes to the tap. Crews are ready and available if there may be an interruption in electric services. Trash and recycling is still being picked up as scheduled.

“I immensely trust our linemen and crews…. We’re also working with neighboring communities Hudson and New Richmond to share resources in times of need. We know there’s brighter days ahead and sometimes these types of situations will make us better and more resilient,” Westhuis said.

  • Statewide, customers will not have utility services disconnected for any billing reason.

  • A utility payment kiosk is available in the immediate front entrance at City Hall beginning March 16 for self-service payment drop-offs.

  • All building inspections and/or water department inspections will be rescheduled.

Election still scheduled

City clerk Amy White and deputy city clerk Jackie Sahnow released election details March 20, encouraging absentee voting so voters may avoid physical voting locations and ensure a safe, timely vote.

READ MORE: Wisconsin cities work through safety guidelines for effective election

Voters must be registered before requesting an absentee ballot. Registered voters can also request absentee ballots at myvote.wi.gov through Thursday, April 2 at 5 p.m.

  • In-person absentee voting hours:

    • March 23 from 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. at city clerk’s office

    • March 24-April 3, Monday-Friday every half hour from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. by appointment only, call 715-426-3523. Limited appointments are available.

  • In-person voting on April 7 is still scheduled for the following polling locations:

    • District 1, Ward 1-5, 15 – River Falls City Hall, Lower Level Training Room**

    • District 2, Wards 9-11 – UWRF, Falcon Center

    • District 3, Wards 6-8 – River Falls City Hall, Lower Level Training Room

    • District 4, Wards 12-14 – River Falls High School, Media Center

**changed as of March 30 from two separate River Falls Public Library polling locations

Expanded public-use wifi

The River Falls Public Library is expanding free 24/7 WiFi to outside the library building in the parking lot and Union Street. No password is required to connect to the wifi services, Library-GuestParkingLot or Library-GuestUnionSt. The library building will remain closed to the public until April 7. More information at the library's website at www.riverfallspubliclibrary.org.

Bars, restaurants with delivery, take-out

A full list of River Falls bars and restaurants still serving food through delivery or take-out is available through the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau at www.rfchamber.com/keeping-you-informed

Limited parking downtown

River Falls Main Street parking is now limited to 30 minutes so businesses may have room for curbside pick-up. If vehicles must be parked longer, they can be parked at the Maple Street lot opposite City Hall. This notice is posted along Main Street and is encouraged but not enforced.

Grocery, essential items stores

Some stores have adjusted their hours, are enforcing social distancing in checkout lines, limited numbers of purchases and are giving special shopping hours to high-risk individuals. Find a rundown of what local stores are doing to respond to the virus here.

Garbage pickup

As of March 23, the city's garbage hauler Advanced Disposal will not collect any items not placed in an issued container. Per the city's Facebook post, "implementing this procedure is necessary to keep employees safe and to help minimize the spread of the virus to other employees, other customers or the public."

Public parks

All city parks remain open as of March 19, but visitors are expected to follow social distancing guidelines and limit gatherings. All playgrounds will be closed for use.

Volunteer to help community needs

Local citizens are collaborating to form a volunteer Virus Response Team which is rapidly establishing roles and responsibilities to help elderly and those with low immune systems who need grocery and medication delivery. Other services may be provided by this growing group. A website was recently published for the group, riverfallsvrt.org.

More information can be requested by contacting Bret VanBlaircom and Craig Hofland at riverfallsvrt@gmail.com or by joining the River Falls Virus Response Team Facebook page.

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