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New York’s regions will reopen in a post-coronavirus environment with a slow, steady and methodical approach, with a keen eye on infection and hospitalization rates.
That was the message from some county executives Wednesday as they contemplate how to implement Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s seven-step process needed to allow non-essential businesses to reopen after May 15.
“We have to go about this in a manner that protects everyone,” said Mark Poloncarz, Erie County executive.
While plans for an economic restart come into focus, municipal budget issues become more opaque.
Depending on size, counties across the state could be staring at a deficit of anywhere from several million to more than $200 million with the collapse of key revenue sectors — sales tax, hotel taxes, mortgage recording fees, casino proceeds.
Tompkins County is furloughing 96 employees because of a multimillion-dollar revenue shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
County executives are joining a chorus, that includes Cuomo, in lobbying for direct federal aid to states and localities with another wave of stimulus money to insulate taxpayers from having to shoulder the burden from virus-related costs and avoid massive layoffs of public-sector workers.
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“It’s very difficult to talk reopening without federal resources,” Poloncarz said.
County executives across the state have been involved in discussions about how to exit the virus-related shutdown that has gripped New York and the nation since mid-March, shutting daily commerce and leaving large swaths of the public jobless.
While other parts of the nation begin the slow process of resuming everyday life, New York remains in pause.
Even as protesters gathered nearby Poloncarz’s office demanding reopening be fast-tracked, the Democratic county executive said he may not consider starting the phased restart until June 1.
Other regions where infection and hospitalization rates are lower, such as the Southern Tier and the North Country, could begin the process after May 15.
Poloncarz and Mark Molinaro, Dutchess County executive, were brought together Wednesday morning by the state Association of Counties for a virtual press briefing on the challenges facing localities as officials try to develop a strategy to resume everyday activities.
When the first phase begins, “the door is only slowly going to inch open,” said Molinaro, a Republican who ran against Cuomo for governor in 2018.
Both county executives put a damper on any hope for a resumption of regular daily life by the summer.
“I don’t think we’re going to see youth sports leagues all summer,” Poloncarz said.
Molinaro was no less pessimistic.
“In reality, certain mass destinations are not going to function,” Molinaro said.
Regions across the state are attempting to fulfill the seven criteria necessary to meet the state’s benchmarks.
The two most daunting are requirements for infection tracers and testing. In time, as personnel are identified for tracking roles and more testing center are opened, officials said the yardsticks will be met.
But some county leaders expressed frustration with the state’s timeline, saying they need more testing capacity from the state to meet the goals.
“We are actively planning, but we need to know what we must do and what the state will be providing,” Steuben County manager Jack Wheeler said.
“Where are the additional contact tracers coming from? We have some, and we’re in discussions with nursing students and have a medical reserve team, but we just need more guidance as to what the state is offering.”
As each phase of reopening takes hold across the state, life is guaranteed to look much different than before the pandemic, both Polancarz and Molinaro said.
“For some small business, this feels like the Great Depression rather than the Great Recession,” Molinaro said, referring to the 1929 economic collapse and the 2008 banking crisis. “These are livelihoods and dreams may not return.”
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