Written by Ashley Onyon in The Leader-Herald on May 14, 2020

MOHAWK VALLEY — Local leaders shared their concerns about the impact of the coronavirus and the response to the outbreak on their communities with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik this week while providing input on what should be included in future federal relief packages.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, was appointed to serve on President Donald Trump’s task force to reopen the country and a bipartisan congressional delegation task force for the Northeast focused on the coronavirus. Following the appointments, Stefanik launched working group listening sessions to gather input and recommendations related to the health crisis from leaders across New York’s 21st Congressional District.

Stefanik is currently in the process of conducting conference calls with public health officials, hospitals, county and local elected officials, small businesses, farmers and school officials to help inform the evolving response to the coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Stefanik joined by state Assemblyman Robert Smullen, heard from elected officials in Fulton and Saratoga counties where the primary challenge local leaders said they’re facing is the loss in sales tax revenue caused by the stay at home order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Gloversville 4th Ward Supervisor Charles Potter shared concerns about Fulton County’s operating budget for the year, describing it as being “decimated” by a drop in sales tax due to the closures of businesses.

According to sales tax data released by the state Comptroller’s Office on Tuesday, sales tax collection in Fulton County dropped by approximately 19.2 percent in April falling to $1.2 million from the previous year’s collection of $1.5 million over the same month.

Potter called for the swift and safe reopening of businesses to buoy the sudden loss in revenue the county is faced with.

“We really need to get these car dealerships and eateries open following social distancing, because we need those sales tax revenues. Our budget is going to be pretty banged up,” said Potter.

Similarly, Johnstown 3rd Ward Supervisor Jack Callery called for an expedited reopening of some restaurants like those on the Great Sacandaga Lake that feature plentiful outdoor dining spaces where social distancing could be accommodated.

The Mohawk Valley which includes Fulton County has met the criteria outlined by Cuomo for a gradual reopening starting on Friday as part of a phased approach that will see certain industries reopen at different stages based on the risk associated with each industry and how essential the service the business provides is.

Restaurants, which have been allowed to operate only for take-out or delivery during the state stay at home order, are included in phase three of the state’s reopening strategy with at least two weeks to come between each stage to allow the state and public health officials to monitor for any resurgence in coronavirus cases before regions can move on to the next phase of reopening.

“I really wish our governor could look at relaxing some of this, our economy is in big trouble,” said Callery.

Mayfield Mayor Jamie Ward pointed to the loss in sales tax revenue as a “grave” concern, noting that the village recently passed a budget without any included projects or new expenditures.

“I can tell you if that sales tax hit is what we project it to be, it will literally be devastating for Mayfield,” said Ward. “We have already cut payroll to all-time lows.”

According to Ward, the village has put planned construction projects on hold and for the first time in roughly 60 years will cancel its summer recreation program that costs approximately $20,000 to operate due to budget constraints related to the impact of the coronavirus. Ward emphasized the need for federal relief in order for the village to overcome the challenges it currently faces.

“Everything has literally been put on hold and we operate with pennies to balance our budget every day. I can’t stress enough, if there is some federal relief that you could provide to our local communities like Mayfield throughout your district, we’ll be crushed if we don’t receive that,” said Ward.

Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson also called for support to the city where he said second quarter sales tax figures are “probably going to take a serious hit.”

Stefanik pointed to federal aid to state and local government as a priority for the state delegation on the coronavirus task force. She noted that the previous federal relief package provided to counties and municipalities through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act included a population cutoff that disqualified smaller communities that she said must be lifted from future aid packages.

“In order to qualify either counties or municipalities had to have over 500,000 residents. That is not what we need in our region, we need to ensure that no matter how small the town or county is in terms of population that you qualify for the direct federal aid and we are fighting for that. We want that in the next bi-partisan package and that is where the New York delegation has really been working together,” said Stefanik.

“We are working to provide relief to the state and local government to ensure that we have an understanding from the federal level of what the impact of this crisis has been on these budgets and we want to make sure that our local law enforcement, our infrastructure projects, education programs [and] county public health programs are funded,” she said.

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