Cortland County leaders held a teleconference yesterday, where legislators and department heads updated the community on the latest information relevant to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting led off with an announcement by Chairman of the Legislature Paul Heider that auto dealerships in the county have been allowed to reopen.
On-site sales can resume as long as they comply with a strict set of protocols.
Heider also said he’s working with state and regional partners to continue the process of reopening Central New York before other areas of the state that have been harder hit by the virus.
Press play below to listen to Heider: (3:30)
A complete list of objectives was released this week required of each region before it can begin reopening- and one of the newer focus points is contact tracing.
The official mandate is 30 contact tracers for every 100k residents in any given region, such as CNY.
Public health director Cathy Feuerherm said the county is already well placed to help meet the demand.
She also revealed that the county’s 19-day streak without a new COVID case has come to an end, with now one active case and 33 total positives to-date.
Press play below to listen to Feuerherm: (5:00)
Meanwhile, the number of furloughs in Cortland County was confirmed yesterday to be 57 employees, two weeks after officials first said it would be anywhere from 50-75.
County administrator Rob Corpora announced the final number yesterday from a municipal update conference on COVID-19 held via teleconference by county leaders.
He also stated that the budget deficit continues to worsen, now anticipated to be anywhere from $1.6-6M, mostly attributed to lost sales tax revenue.
Press play below to listen to Corpora: (1:57)
Relaying updates on behalf of senior residents in the county was Liz Haskins, director of the local Area Agency on Aging.
She warned of a potential meat shortage in the near future posing a threat on local food programs, including the Meals on Wheels deliveries being made to older residents in addition to their regular wellness checks.
A state task force has been assembled to develop an overarching plan addressing these concerns and more among senior service agencies across the state.
Press play below to listen to Haskins: (5:24)
Speaking on potential concerns regarding delinquencies and changes to the STAR exemption was Karen Spafford, the county’s director of Real Property.
Spafford said the state will send out letters over the next three weeks detailing this information.
She also said more information will be available locally as the state works through the associated changes.
Press play below to listen to Spafford: (1:17)
Some good news was reported by the county’s director of finance, Andrea Herzog, who confirmed that several key documents are set to be filed to the federal government – something that’s been difficult in the past.
Final sales tax distributions are in for the first quarter of FY-2020, which are actually up an estimated 8.5% over last year.
Additionally, Herzog said her office is in the process of refunding several capital bonds expected to save the county around $280k.
Press play below to listen to Herzog:
Continuing the financial discussion, a list of updates was also presented by the newly-elected County Treasurer John Banewicz.
That includes the reduction of 44 open estates in January to now just “four or five,” with additional measures being taken to follow up on several abandoned properties located in the county.
Banewicz also said he’s been working to revamp the office’s procedural manual to help those who assume the role in the future to better organize and manage the job.
Press play below to listen to Banewicz:
Giving some updates on current and future county road projects was Highway Director Charles Sudbrink.
Ongoing work includes a pair of pavement and culvert repairs on Otisco Valley Road and Mcgraw-Marathon Road.
Additional projects planned to begin this summer include work on North Tower Road, Lower Cincinnatus Road, Taylor Valley Road and Davie Hollow Road.
Sudbrink said the department is also set to stone & oil some 40 miles of county roadway.
Press play below to listen to Sudbrink:
One of the more wide-reaching issues around COVID-19 has been the toll its taken on the workforce.
Annette Barber is the county’s director of personnel, who spoke more about the county furloughs made in light of an unfortunate trend involving forced work reductions across New York State.
Cortland County furloughed 57 employees – all of whom, Barber said, have been setup to qualify for unemployment and continue building up tenure towards retirement.
Press play below to listen to Barber:
Speaking further on the issue of unemployment was Amy Buggs, executive director of the Cayuga-Cortland County Workforce Development Group.
She discussed some of the progress being made with residents applying for and receiving their benefits.
Additionally, Buggs affirmed that her organizations Summer Youth Employment Program is still on, providing 14 to 21 year-olds the opportunity to work at participating local businesses in the county.
Press play below to listen to Buggs:
Another area that’s been heavily impacted statewide: Social Services.
County DSS Commissioner Kristen Monroe said one heightened problem has been an increase in domestic violence and child abuse calls – largely the result of a increased drug abuse rates, she added.
Monroe also said schools are having some issues with certain parents/students being unresponsive in regards to corresponding on distance learning.
She did report an increased participation in virtual services and utilizing the county’s 211 program being run by Seven Valleys Health Coalition.
Press play below to listen to Monroe:
More updates were delivered by the county’s newest department head, Sharon MacDougall, serving as Director of Mental Health for the past three months.
She warned that a large cost increase regarding mental health services is impending due to an expected blow to state assistance funding. As an example, mandatory psych services for jail inmates could double.
MacDougall said her department is now working with other partners to try and develop a local solution to the issue.
Some success has been found in conducting certain telehealth services.
Press play below to listen to MacDougall:
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been one of the most crucial aspects of the fight against COVID-19 for both frontline workers and residents at-large.
Emergency Response & Communications director Scott Roman said the local supply is currently meeting needs, although assistance from the state has been scarce.
Roman said the county received its first shipment of PPE from the state this week, more than a month after the pandemic touched down across New York.
Press play below to listen to Roman:
A packed testimony was also delivered by District Attorney Patrick Perfetti, who spoke on behalf of issue being dealt with across the county court system.
As anticipated, these primarily deal with the effects of the state’s new bail and discovery reforms, with the added difficulties of COVID-19 presenting even more of a challenge.
Perfetti also discussed the process around community monitoring for the virus, along with other relevant legal measures that have come up since the arrival of the pandemic.
Press play below to listen to Perfetti:
An extensive update was also given by County Clerk Elizabeth “Betsie” Larkin, which included discussion on the recent closure of the DMV office’s drive-thru.
Larkin detailed several important reminders about how to handle certain county services in light of all the changes forced upon by COVID-19, including the various drop boxes set up around town.
She also went into some other precautions taken to ensure health and safety protocols are being met at her office.
Press play below to listen to Larkin:
Finally, County Coroner Whitney Meeker spoke briefly about an interesting rise in postmortem investigations by her office as compared to last year.
She initially speculated that to be an increase in cases where officials were trying to see if COVID-19 played a role in any county deaths that have occurred since January.
Meeker said so far, there have been no deaths in the county at all determined to be associated with the virus.
Press play below to listen to Meeker:
At the close of the county department updates, several questions were taken from other local officials in virtual attendance:
District 12 Legislator Joe Nauseef asked a question about antibody testing in the county, which was answered by public health director Cathy Feuherm.
Antibody and diagnostic testing are essential components to Governor Cuomo’s phased reopening plan, along with contact tracing which Feuerherm addressed earlier in the meeting.
Little direction has been handed down so far from the state regarding antibody testing locally.
Press play below to listen:
Homer Mayor Hal McCabe asked for further clarification on what’s being done to meet the governor’s reopening benchmarks.
Legislative Chairman Paul Heider explained that more details are being coordinated by a regional partnership headed by Onondaga County executive Ryan McMahon.
Heider says the group’s ultimate goal is to ensure Central New York will begin its reopening process sooner than other parts of the state seeing much higher infection rates in their communities.
Press play below:
Additional inquiries were made by Mcgraw Mayor Bill McGovern.
He asked county leaders if any state direction has been given on children’s day camps over the summer.
State and federal officials are currently trying to hammer out details on how they may be able to open with enhanced safety guidelines in place.
McGovern also thanked the county health department for their daily updates and sharing of additional relevant information.