Garfield County government offices ride ebbs and flows of coronavirus precautions
Limited in-person services began at Clerk and Recorder’s offices over summer, but online transactions still urged
The Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office managed to make it all the way from the initial appearance of COVID-19 in the county last March until just before Thanksgiving before recording its first coronavirus shutdown.
No small feat, said Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico, given hers is one of the higher-traffic offices in Garfield County government — alongside the Department of Human Services, which saw even higher customer volumes than usual last year due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.
After a COVID-19 case was traced to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office in Rifle, Alberico said she closed that office for two weeks in late November and early December.
Shortly thereafter, several staff members at the Glenwood office tested positive, Alberico said.
“Fortunately, because of time off for the holidays or just being overly cautious and staying out of the office until they were tested, staff just had to quarantine, and I did not have to shut down the Glenwood office,” she said.
Just as high-volume private businesses have adapted to the ever-changing public health restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, so have some of the more intensive county government services.
The courthouse building on Eighth Street, where Alberico’s Glenwood office is located, remained open from day one in mid-March at a time when other public buildings shut down completely. However, the security guards who control access into the building only let in people with appointments, or for business with the courts.
The Clerk and Recorder’s Office is normally one of the busier offices in the building, in charge of issuing motor vehicle registrations and title transfers, marriage licenses, various licenses for businesses in the unincorporated parts of the county, accommodating vital records searches, registering voters and conducting elections, and recording real estate transactions.
The office continued to carry out all of its functions through online options that already had become more commonplace, even during the strictest “Stay at Home” orders in the spring, Alberico said.
Slowly, as case numbers declined over the summer and as protective partitions were installed at service counters, both the Glenwood and Rifle offices started making appointments for motor vehicle transactions and marriage licenses.
“Both offices are making appointments for in-person transactions that are easier to do in person, such as vehicle sales between individuals, people moving in from out of state and cash purchases from dealers,” Alberico said.
Glenwood office appointments are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays all day during business hours, and Friday mornings. The Rifle office has a light appointment schedule on Monday and Friday mornings, and makes appointments all day for the rest of the week.
“Rifle is making appointments a week out and the Glenwood Office has about a 10-day wait for appointments,” Alberico said.
The Glenwood office also has a larger staff, since it does most of the back-office work, processing mail-in and online renewals, and title work mailed from dealers and lenders.
“Both offices will issue new plates or transfer plates over the phone when a customer receives a title complete notice in the mail for their new purchase from a dealer,” she said.
That process has been delayed some in recent months after the state correctional facility in Cañon City that uses inmate labor to make the license plates had a COVID-19 outbreak.
Alberico said that meant customers have had to be issued second and third temporary permits, resulting in increased call volume for her offices.
License plate production resumed in mid-January, alleviating that situation, she said.
Customers needing to renew their license plates are still asked to do so online, rather than by phone, because the call volume is too much under current staffing levels, Alberico said.
“Many customers also prefer to complete their transactions using the email packets developed by staff,” she said.
Couples can also now make appointments to obtain marriage licenses, and Recording Department appointments are available if someone needs to conduct a real estate search or record documents in person.
However, “most copy requests can be done as an online request and either emailed, faxed, or mailed to the requestor.
Last year was also a big year for voter registrations leading up to the November elections, and conducting the election itself. Alberico said most voters now use the Secretary of State’s online voter registration, found at govotecolorado.gov.
The Garfield County Treasurer’s and Assessor’s Office have also had to modify their operations during the pandemic, and for now neither is allowing foot traffic except by special arrangement.
That includes things that can be done no other way, such as cash payments and other things requiring personal attention, Garfield County Treasurer Carrie Couey said.
“We are encouraging people to do payments in other ways,” she said. “The options are to drop payments in the dropbox at the courthouse, put them in the mail or wire them from their banks for payments.
“The Treasurer’s Office is excited to reach the future where it is safe to go back to business as usual and provide a more personal touch to those who prefer in-person service,” Couey added.
While the Assessor’s Office is closed for in-person business in most cases, it remains a full service operation for business over the phone, email and virtual meetings, Garfield County Assessor Jim Yellico said.
“We did open up in the fall for in-person traffic, however in December as cases were climbing we scaled back to where we are now,” he said.
Yellico said he hopes to reopen for regular in-person transactions by May, which is when the appeal period opens for the 2021 notice of property valuations.
“Hopefully, the health of the county continues to improve and we can be open sooner,” Yellico said.
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