Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone hosted a public Zoom meeting on Thursday, in which he was joined by Onondaga County executive Ryan McMahon and Orange County executive Steve Neuhaus, to show that these regions of New York deserve significant federal financial compensation.
After pointing out the effective effort of following all the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and then the state, an unfortunate side effect was the associated economic turmoil. But, as Bellone noted, the numbers for the region, as well as Suffolk County, did change positively, and the curve did flatten significantly to long periods of time hovering at positivity rates just over 1 percent and logging no deaths across the county for four or five consecutive days.
“It would be unconscionable for the federal government now to turn around and say, ‘Thank you for following the guidance. You did a great job, but here’s the bill for the cost of that response.’ It would go against everything that has been tradition in our country, and it wouldn’t make any sense,” Bellone said. “This is the worst possible time for county governments to be considering things like massive layoffs or significant new tax burdens at a time when small businesses and our local communities and families are struggling. What we need is for county governments to be strong, be able to recover as quickly as possible because the things that we do are extraordinarily important in the recovery period.”
Onondaga County executive Ryan McMahon made note that the virus hit downstate New York first. “I spoke to [Bellone and Neuhaus] and got intelligence on the ground. We implemented mitigation techniques and tactics to fight this virus before we had cases because of the work and communication [Bellone and Neuhaus] were doing,” McMahon said, continuing on to say that the upstate county is also struggling financially due to the upkeep leading up to and during the peak of the pandemic. “A lot of us have been delaying very, very tough decisions because we have been told through various stimulus efforts that we are going to receive help — that state and local governments are next.”
McMahon pointed out that county governments are among the highest employers in each of the three counties represented. He added that none of the three counties will avoid significant budget cuts if federal assistance does not make its way to these New York counties.
“And the positions we will have to be cutting are uncomfortable positions for us all to talk about,” McMahon said, continuing on to list police officers, 911 dispatchers, health department workers, social service agencies, children and family service department employees, parks department employees, and department of transportation personnel.
“These are all things that are mandatory, and we have nowhere else to cut. We have already cut our budgets where we can,” he said. “We have a $100 million problem in Onondaga County. I have already cut and held positions, early retirement incentives, let go of 103 lines, and that gets us to about $50 million. But I still have another $50 million problem, and that is assuming in a second spike in the fall or the winter we don’t have any more economic disruptions. So, there are lots of assumptions. We are already spending some of our reserves that we have built up because of good management over the last few years.”
Orange County executive Neuhaus was also present to discuss the need for federal aid. He noted that the county provided 70 percent of the nursing homes’ personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic.
“The further we are behind, the further it is for us to get through this economic recession or depression where I have 12.7 percent unemployment in Orange County,” Neuhaus added. “I have industries that are trying to come back. I have industries that are permanently not coming back or telling me they are going bankrupt. This is a critical time. We need the federal government to step in.”
The bipartisan approach toward addressing the federal government was pointed out. Bellone is a Democrat, though McMahon and Neuhaus both represent the Republican Party. Bellone made a point to call the COVID-19 pandemic a natural disaster.
“Normally, when we think of natural disasters, we are thinking about hurricanes, nor’easters, flooding... things like that. Just because this is something new and something we haven’t seen in modern times, [it] doesn’t make it any different in terms of its impact,” Bellone said. “This is a natural disaster, just like anything else that we face. Our national government works with local communities to help cover the cost of the response to that natural disaster.”