A state of emergency has been declared in the City of Johnstown.
It is the most severe measure taken by the municipality since the 1977 Flood.
In a declaration released late Friday afternoon, the city has given its directors – in coordination with interim City Manager John Trant Jr. and Office of Emergency Management – to meet the ongoing demands caused by the coronavirus pandemic without limitations of procedures required by other laws, except when constitutionally required.
The declaration applies to the performance of public works, entering into contracts, incurring obligations, employing temporary workers, renting equipment, purchasing supplies and materials, and making expenditures of public funds.
Any regulatory procedures that – if strictly complied with – would hinder, prevent or delay carrying out the state of emergency are suspended.
“The city has been working for weeks now to prepare as best we can for the pandemic,” Trant said. “It's a very fluid situation obviously, so we are continuing to monitor. Taking the commonwealth's and the county's lead in declaring an emergency declaration allows us to act with greater flexibility and urgency.”
The decision was made in order to provide the city the ability to respond quickly to situations that arise because of the pandemic.
Trant and Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic signed the declaration.
“It enables us to move things quickly,” Johnstown Police Department Chief Robert Johnson said. “Rather than wait for approval, we are being given the ability to make these decisions on our own based on what we deem to be best practices for the city, its employees and the citizens.”
Johnson addressed the need to react to situations that are often changing hour-to-hour, saying, “With all these things occurring, we are having to adapt accordingly. There are certain things that are occurring with county agencies that impact our daily operations. And, as a result, we have to tailor what we're doing in most if not all aspects.”
The city remains open for business, carrying out basic functions, although City Hall is closed to the public without a prior appointment. Officials are also continuing work on major projects, such as preparing Johnstown to exit Pennsylvania's Act 47 program for distressed municipalities by Oct. 28, 2021 and the completion of the sewer project by Dec. 31, 2022. Both dates are state mandates.
“We're continuing operations,” Trant said. “The city isn't shutting down. We need to continue to operate essential services and continue to work on important things like the Act 47 exit strategy and the sewer deal that are incredibly important to the future of Johnstown. As best we can, within the context of the state of emergency, we're going to continue working on those things.”