BERLIN — The city of Berlin extended its mask mandate, which was due to expire Thursday, until the end of the month.

The vote to extend the mandate to midnight on Nov. 30 was a close one, with five members of the Berlin City Council voting in favor and three voting against.

Before voting, the council reviewed a two-page document submitted by Androscoggin Valley Hospital Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Brian O’Hearn, who gave an update on the COVID status in the community and a recommendation to continue the mandate for another two weeks from Nov. 25.

According to O’Hearn’s letter, the number of COVID inpatients statewide was 350 as of Monday afternoon. He also stated that there are very few beds available in hospitals throughout the state.

Locally, O’Hearn said there are four active COVID cases at AVH, with two patients recovering and one on a ventilator. On Friday, the hospital tested 40 people for COVID. Of those 17 were rapid tests, seven of which came back positive. O’Hearn also said in his letter that the hospital administered four doses of monoclonal antibodies over the weekend.

City Manager Jim Wheeler said he also received correspondence from Coos County Family Health Services Chief Executive Officer Ken Gordon, which also asked the city to extend the mask mandate two weeks.

Mayor Paul Grenier said he was not in favor of extending the mandate for two weeks. He said he checked the active cases in Berlin and saw the number was 27. He said he would like to see the city extend the mask mandate to the end of the month (a little over one week) so it would give health care staff a few extra days.

Grenier said he is not a big mandate guy and that with 27 cases if the city extends the mandate another two weeks it is going to breed cynicism in the community.

Councilor Lucie Remillard said she feels like the medical community knows what they are talking about and that the city should follow their guidance and go with the two-week extension.

Councilor Peter Higbee said he, too, is in favor of the two-week extension. He said that previously when the city council approved the mask mandate they were acting on information provided by medical professionals and he feels that by not extending it another two-weeks the city is sending the wrong message. Higbee said he thinks it is risky to take away the mandate at this time.

Ultimately, a motion was made to accept the mayor’s suggestion to extend the mandate to Nov. 30. 

Councilors Michael Rozek, Diana Berthiaume, Denise Morgan, Mark Eastman and Mayor Grenier voted yes on the Nov. 30 date. Councilors Remillard, Higbee and Roland Theberge voted no.

More properties put out for sale

The city council also voted unanimously to put out four multifamily properties for bid Monday. The council voted to put out for bid parcels located at 767 Second Ave., 96-98 Hillside Ave., 609 Hillsboro St., and 611 and 615 Rockingham St., which is one parcel. The board voted to put the properties out to bid with a $5,000 minimum bid price and a $5,000 escrow deposit in order to ensure proper work being done on the parcels.

Community Development Director Pam Laflamme said the four parcels meet the council’s previous request that only two-family properties be put out four bid. There were eight total multifamily parcels under consideration, but all of the other parcels were three-unit parcels.

During the discussion, Remillard said she thought putting the parcels out for bid at the amount due for back taxes was bit steep. The back taxes owed on the properties is: $24,799 for 767 Second Ave.; $28,607 for 96-98 Hillside Ave.; $12,861 for 609 Hillsboro; and $17,875 for the parcel on Rockingham.

Initially, Remillard suggested $3,000 as the escrow deposit price, but councilor Berthiaume said she thought the price was too low and that the deposit shouldn’t be less than $5,000.

The deposit will be held in trust until the purchaser of the individual properties improves a property to the degree that a certificate of occupancy can be issued. 

Grenier said the properties being put out for bid are in rough shape and work would need to be done to achieve that goal.

The council also agreed to allow five parcels of land to be offered to abutting property owners. Those parcels are located at 94 Granite St., 758 Second Ave., 155 Willow St., 421 Burgess St. and 466 Burgess St. with the requirement that if an abutter purchases the property they must adjoin the purchased property to their existing lot. 

Grenier said he thinks the community would be better served if those parcels were left as open land to help reduce the density in Berlin.

A sixth property located at 290 Grafton St. was not part of the properties being offered to abutting property owners as it is a 0.23 acre lot suitable for building a residential structure.

See Tuesday’s Berlin Sun for more details from Monday’s city council meeting.

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