Oak Ridge North’s local disaster declaration was extended indefinitely at a specially called City Council meeting March 23.

The declaration was first issued by Mayor Paul Bond on March 18 in response to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, then amended March 19 before it was unanimously extended by council members March 23. Council may vote to terminate the declaration at any time.

The amended declaration activated the city's emergency management plan; authorized further spending on aid under that plan; set a $1,000 fine for violators of the declaration; and established gathering, occupancy and business restrictions aligned with the guidelines set by Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough on March 19.

Before approving the declaration resolution, council members briefly discussed the need for the extension and the benefits of maintaining the declaration. City Manager Heather Neeley and City Attorney Chris Nichols each said disaster declarations are often required to receive state or federal aid, and the move could end up helping the city’s businesses and residents in the future.

“By the city declaring a disaster, it’s ensuring that anything that has a prerequisite that a disaster be declared, that everybody in the city is subject to that declaration,” Nichols said. “It doesn’t guarantee that any one particular business or organization is going to get anything, but it clears the first hurdle for them to at least be eligible to apply.”

Bond also noted that the main goal of the extension, and his initial declaration, was to protect citizens and adhere to county and federal guidance regarding health and gathering practices.

“Let’s remember the most important aspect of the declaration is to mitigate the spread of the virus,” he said.

After voting to extend the disaster declaration, no further business was discussed at the March 23 session. Council is expected to meet next in early April but may elect to hold a meeting by phone or video conference in place of a regular meeting at City Hall.