When the Barron County Board of Supervisors meets next Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, it will be presented with a proposal to remodel Veterans Auditorium, the largest meeting space in the Barron County Government Center.
Virtually unchanged since it was built 56 years ago, the auditorium is in need of an estimated $45,000 in sound and video upgrades to improve the public’s access from remote locations, which has been a problem during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the County Board Executive Committee learned at their Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, monthly meeting.
“I think our August (Board of Supervisors) meeting was a disgrace,” County Board Chair Louie Okey, Dist. 16, town of Cedar Lake, told the Executive Committee.”
The meeting was interrupted several times by electronic glitches that prevented people from hearing supervisors who were on live video hookups with the Government Center. At other times, the auditorium was filled with loud noises as the sound system malfunctioned.
“This makes Barron County look terrible,” Okey said. “We can’t have virtual meetings because we can’t do it right.”
As the pandemic goes on and more virtual meetings take place, the need for reliable technology will only increase, Okey said.
“Without (new technology), our public is deprived, and some of our own members can’t hear what other supervisors are saying,” he said.
If both the supervisors and the public can attend meetings safely from their homes, county business will be transacted more smoothly and supervisors will have more opportunities to contribute, Okey added.
The new technology “would allow more virtual meeting (opportunities) for our supervisors who are snowbirds” in the winter, he said
In addition to technological improvements, the plan also calls for a different seating arrangement for supervisors, County Administrator Jeff French said.
Two concept drawings were shown to the Executive Committee, including a plan that could expand the seating area by removing a small room near the auditorium stage.
Because the plan calls for improving remote electronic access to meetings, the design process can be paid for with funds from the state’s “Road to Recovery” program.
The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Trump in late March 2020, the Executive Committee learned.
Earlier this year, the county qualified for $756,000 in Road to Recovery money. The county must spend the money before year’s end in order to be reimbursed, supervisors were told. At present, about $330,000 of that total remains unspent.