Challenges were recognized at every level during 2020 and county government was not immune to the symptoms brought on by COVID19 and additional factors, such as extreme rainfall.
However, County Judge Brandon Ellison said the county was prepared for an unprecedented year and has made great strides despite the additional challenges.
“The obvious challenge is COVID,” Ellison said. “The treatment in place today is different than in March; we know so much more about it. We were told to be freaked out. We were scared of the unknown.”
Ellison said the manner in which the county responded to the pandemic went tremendously well and resulted in the courthouse being able to remain open and no cases of the virus reported at the jail.
“It is the people’s house and we didn’t want to close it. So, we half staffed and alternated people.”
Ellison said all statistics he was given from officials were dire.
“I was told that 300 people in Polk County were going to die, and 20% of population was going to get it. Economically, I was told, everything would stop, we would shrivel up and the revenue would fall. I was told we would basically be circling the drain. Of course, months went on and that didn’t happen.”
Ellison said business slowly returned to normal and protocols were changed.
“So now, we have tried to normalize everything we can,” he said. “I have to realize that people die of things – a lot of different things. I can’t trust anything I read any more.”
“When I look at the death count for all reasons and it is less in 2020 than it was in 2019, I don’t know what it tells me. Are they miss-marking deaths or are we having less accidents. I don’t know what those statistics tell us; is it less cancer or less flu?”
Ellison said despite questions remaining regarding COVID statistics, he feels it imperative to act and lead responsibly.
“We have to keep going, I know that,” he said. “You can’t stop life or living. I want to protect the most vulnerable.”
Ellison noted the service of the senior centers during the pandemic.
“I’m proud of the senior centers and how they delivered food to those who wanted to stay home – and I do mean wanted to. We shouldn’t make anyone do anything. We can make suggestions, but shouldn’t force.”
In addition to the COVID response, Ellison said rainfall has been the biggest challenge.
“I believe we have had 100 inches of rain this year; the average is 52 inches. Last year, there was 80 inches,” he explained, noting that flash flooding can damage roads, bridges, culverts and other structures the county is responsible for maintaining.
“It has just shot our wheels completely off. But, even with all that happening, our roads are not horrible, but it has killed our projects. I’ve been moving forward every year and this year we haven’t been able to move forward much.”
In a flooding event Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 some places in Polk County recorded 1 to 13 inches of rain. The courthouse flooded and several water rescues occurred.
“With that being said, we have been productive,” Ellison said. “I’ve been busier this year and I’ve worked more this year than any year, other than maybe the first year I was in office.”