Hutto extends disaster declaration, suspends PIA request deadlines amid coronavirus pandemic

Declarations of disaster provide cities with access to state and federal emergency funds. (Courtesy city of Hutto)
Declarations of disaster provide cities with access to state and federal emergency funds. (Courtesy city of Hutto)

Declarations of disaster provide cities with access to state and federal emergency funds. (Courtesy city of Hutto)

Hutto City Council voted in favor of extending the mayor's declaration of disaster by seven days at council's March 19 meeting. The 5-0 vote approved the extension, with Council Member Tanner Rose and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Hines absent from the meeting.

The benefit of issuing a declaration of disaster, interim City Manager Charles Daniels said March 19, is that it provides access to state and federal funds during emergency situations. If the declaration is not extended and expires after seven days, it could lead to a lapse in federal funds received by the city, Public Information Officer Stacy Schmitt said March 19.

Council Member Mike Snyder said he did not see a clear benefit to calling for an immediate extension, adding that regardless of what council decides, county and state mandates will ultimately supersede. Snyder, citing increased lines at grocery stores and item shortages, said he felt a declaration is "spooking people and putting them in line at H-E-B."

"I think we're creating a little bit of a panic," Snyder said.

Council Member Patti Martinez said that the panic buying in grocery stores began prior to the mayor's declaration and that the city's ability to receive state and federal funding could provide a sense of security to residents. She also added that it would be in the city's best interest to extend the declaration at least until schools are back in session.


"Be prepared, not scared," she said.

In a separate agenda item discussed March 19, council also voted 5-0 in favor of a resolution temporarily suspending deadlines for public information access requests by seven days. Schmitt said the reasoning behind the suspension is that it is unlikely all necessary city staff will be in the office at the same time, given Williamson County's mandate on gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, to gather the materials and enter them into the system prior to its deadline.

Schmitt added that members of the public can still submit requests and staff will still work on them, but there will not be a deadline against which city officials are running up. The seven-day extension, Schmitt confirmed, would be seven business days, not calendar ones.

The temporary suspension of PIA request deadlines is allowed during emergency circumstances, city staff said, with Schmitt adding she will submit the suspension to the attorney general's office to let the state know it has been enacted.
By Kelsey Thompson
Kelsey Thompson is the reporter for Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto, where her work focuses on education, city government and community development. Originally from Upstate New York, Kelsey relocated to Austin after graduating from Syracuse University in May 2019.


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