COVID & It’s Associated Local Budget Woes

By Edie Johnson

Local towns are struggling with their budgets, and at the same time trying to keep virus counts in their municipalities down.  In Blooming Grove, where the virus count has been very low, except for a tiny corner that borders Kiryas Joel, officials were warned on Tuesday that Governor Cuomo was considering perimeter restrictions for all of zip code 10950.  But Blooming Grove lies in zip codes 10990, 10918 and 10950, and would have had a major threat to businesses that could have serious restrictions reinstated even though only a few streets in its most southeast corner are affected. The Town as a whole has a population of over 17,500. The original plan considered business restrictions all the way from the Buddhist retreat on Clove Road eastward to Orange & Rockland Utility Hdq. Fortunately, after an afternoon and evening of negotiating with the Governor, he agreed to put perimiter restrictions as shown in the map to the right, rather than by zip code.  But concerns over business activity remain. In conversations with other town supervisors Jeroloman said that most towns are still expecting at least a 25% shortfall in sales tax revenue.  As of April/May its Town Board had already worked together and adjusted their budget by cutting $430,000 of planned spending.  Now they are once again looking at a likely $325,000 – $400,000 deficit.  Building projects are on hold, possibly for 2 years, and some town positions that are currently unfilled simply will not be filled.  Jeroloman said that to see it in perspective, “This shortfall is equal to the shortfalls of 2007, 2008 and 2009 all in one budget.” In addition, the cost of retirement is expected to increase 15-16%.  The one good news related to money in the Town is that Highway Superintendent Wayne Kirkpatrick reported that with the new and more environmentally friendly salting mix they use, they still have 3 of the town’s salt storage cribs full, and may be able to lower quantity orders and therefore expenses in future years.  That will leave $84,000 in his budget, “We should take that ‘saving’ with a grain of salt”, they quipped.

Deputy Supervisor George Doering voiced objections to the fact that a significant amount of negative budget impact is because of monies that will be pulled from expected sales tax from the county which will instead be given to hospitals, nursing homes and other instutions.  Doering said that “These  facilities have insurance that will help make up for any of their shortfalls, and they also have advantages of federal funding.”  Doering said that he feels the Governor should not have the ability to negatively impact towns to such a degree. Towns also have contractual obligations that must be filled.

This is the story throughout Orange County, as well as other parts of the country.  And while home sales are up, home assessments won’t give any benefit for another year.

In New Windsor – which has the third highest COVID-19 rate in the county, their Rec and Building Department staff decorated a beautiful entrance for Fall, only to ask people not to use it, and to communicate by phone and mail whenever possible. New Windsor residents, wondering why their rates are so high, said they think it’s because New Windsor is a busy business town, and brings in many people from other areas.  They also made the point that wherever there is higher population density, social distancing is a greater challenge.

The upshot is that while local towns struggle to keep COVID down, it keeps business down as well, including many people’s jobs, livelihoods, physical and mental condition, as well as sense of security and hope for the future. These all have the potential to impact health as well. 

Residents are forewarned from the county and state that the new perimeter rules are going to be flexible and could change from week to week.  If increases in virus numbers flow over the map’s edges, the map will be adjusted to reflect it.  Also, reports following the establishment of the perimeter map are that there is some backlash from 10950, causing at least one park (Chadwick Lake in the Town of Newburgh) and several orchards to close because of increased visitors who were not adhering to mask wearing or social distancing. On Thursday Warwick followed suit with a park closure.

While adherence varies from person to person and community to community, Notes from Agoudas Israel stated on Tuesday, “May Hashem protect our health”, and followed with a reminder that Governor Cuomo had placed similar restrictions on worship attendence in May, that they filed an Amicus brief, and that the Court declared the restriction unconstitutional. “Repeating unconstitutional behavior does not make it lawful.”  It did add that they hope that Cuomo’s actions “will not weaken good heath practice compliance.

Caption 1 – Perimiter map of graded restriction areas according to incidence of COVID-19

County Executive, Steve Neuhaus “The major differences are that in the red zone, schools are going “remote/virtual”, Houses of Worship are limited to 10, no mass gatherings. In the yellow zone, there will be stepped up enforcement but Houses of Worship remain at 50 percent, restaurants are limited to tables of four. We will continue to evaluate the numbers closely and work with Albany as best we can to make adjustments.”

(Apologies for the poor map quality. We are doing our best to get a legible version).

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