ASHTABULA — The Ashtabula City Health Department is looking to hire part-time employees to help gather critical information from city residents diagnosed with COVID-19.

City Council unanimously approved an ordinance at Monday night's virtual Zoom meeting, allowing the health department to hire temporary workers for the job. The employees, called "contact tracers," also will be asked to record information on symptoms and provide contacts with information about quarantine procedures. 

"We are getting slammed with COVID," City Manager Jim Timonere said. "Our health department is working day and night."

The tracers will be paid $15 an hour and work no more than 30 hours a week, according to the job description on the city's website.

Timonere said he will be working with Ashtabula Health Commissioner Christine Hill to revamp the city's COVID-19 website, he said.

"We are doing our best to keep up on it," Timonere said. "Hopefully, hiring these contact tracers will help us get ahead of this."

In other business, the ongoing battle between Council and Municipal Judge Laura DiGiacomo's request to give a stipend to the court's two security guards took another blow.

A motion to approve the stipend was defeated in a 3 yes and 4 no vote, with Ward 1 Council person Kym Foglio, Ward 3 Council person Laydean Young, Vice President Michael Speelman and President John Roskovics all voting no.

The one-time compensation, in the amount of $2,106, would come out of the Ashtabula Municipal Court’s Special Project Fund, City Solicitor Michael Franklin said.

This 2020 one-time payment would give two part-time security guards a bonus for the extra duties related to COVID-19.

The Supreme Court of Ohio mandates the court to provide security and a security searches.

City Finance Director Traci Welch said even though the money is coming out of the court’s special fund, the city may still have to shell out more money next year. 

“It's the judge's fund, but if that fund doesn’t bring in the revenue we budget for, the amount of the fund will go into the negative,” she said. “We can’t have a negative fund. The money will have to come out of the general fund.”

As of Oct. 31, the General Fund has subsidized the court to offset its expenses over revenue by $570,700, Welch said.

Court Administrator Tonja Amato said last week that the judge is following the mandate of the Ohio Supreme Court and established security protocol based on their assessment of the Justice Center.

"The judge is only interested in providing a safe and secure court with an X-ray machine and a security guard at the front door," she said.

There are two security guards. One works two days, the other works three days a week.

Two weeks ago, the city’s unions submitted letters to City Council opposing the security guard’s additional compensation, saying they also perform extra duties during the pandemic without additional compensation.

Other highlights from the council meeting:

• Council authorized the city manager to enter into a $44,600 contract with Building Technicians Corp. to make emergency repairs or replace the water pollution control blower building roof.

• Council authorized the finance director to advance $250,000 from the general fund to the permanent improvement fund for the Petmin road improvement project.

• Council noted that there is a list of people who are interested in serving on the Parks and Recreation Board: Pete Bean, Margaret Distler, Tara Hawkins and Patrick Haywood.

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