New York's Mohawk Valley entered the first phase of reopening on Friday. As construction, manufacturing, and agriculture businesses were starting up after weeks under the coronavirus PAUSE order, WAMC's Lucas Willard spoke with first-term Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti about how businesses and the city as a whole are preparing for launch.
They're all looking at the written form requirements that are in these new guidelines. And they're saying, how can we do this? And of course, the city and our county are trying to help them as much as we can. You know, provide them with the information that they asked for, so that they can do these things safely for themselves for the customers.
Amsterdam has a lot of those distribution and large businesses along the Route 5S corridor. What is the situation over there right now?
Well, they've been in operation, you know, because they do provide various products to many, you know, the Targets and the Walmarts of the world, and food products, Beech Nut. So they've been in operation. They’ve been declared as essential businesses. So they have been practicing social distancing, and doing the things they need to do. So they've been in operation all along. But, so really, you know, again, the new, the un-PAUSE, the reopening requires them to continue to protect their employees protect their customers. And that's so in that respect, little has changed for them.
Amsterdam and Montgomery County is right next to just a few miles away from the city of Schenectady in the Capital Region, which is still closed down. So is Amsterdam, working with Montgomery County, taking any precautions or is expecting any impacts from people coming over from next door in Schenectady?
Again, that that is a situation that that might happen if we had a larger shopping district or retail shopping district, there'd be more people coming in our Route 30 corridor is in the town of Amsterdam. But Montgomery County is working very, very hard to make sure that anyone who shops, comes into shop and any of our stores, you know shops in a safe environment.
The big discussion in Washington right now is providing aid to state and local governments. Do you have a snapshot of how COVID has impacted city finances over the last several weeks and what are we looking at any potential long term impacts?
Well you know, we've lost revenues. We've lost productivity, we've added expenses because of this pandemic, and it's really, really damaging our ability to plan to provide the essential services that are going to be so desperately needed as this thing goes over, goes on. So, you know, the financial assistance, like Amsterdam that are included in that, I think they're calling it the Heroes Act. They're absolutely essential for our city, if we are going to be able to go into this with a plan that's going to meet the needs of our people in terms of public safety, you know, in terms of our sanitation and our sewage, we really, really need some financial assistance, and we're really hoping that this Heroes Act will become the answer.
Is Amsterdam looking at any potential layoffs if this money does not come through?
Well, we are you know, we are late on a budget planning right now. I just found a very negative news on our sales tax. We've been waiting for the most current numbers and our sales tax is dropping dramatically. So that means we have to get next year, we're under a different light when it comes to sales tax revenue. And we are, we have already put together a budget that includes not filling a lot of positions that are vacant at this time. We have done the best that we can. And now we are looking at what the financial impact is with actual evidence, with sales tax numbers. And we're saying to ourselves, you know, we really are going to have to have an emergency plan in place if the Heroes Act doesn't come through.
I wanted to ask you one question about education in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam School District recently appointed a new superintendent to come in for the next school year. Has there been any challenges that have been brought to your attention from the school district on making sure that children have been able to get the instruction that they need, ELA students, making sure that we have the resources there?
It is such a difficult time for public any school to do what they do in this environment. And there have been, you know, I've read I've read a lot of comments. They haven't come directly to me, but I've read them, about parents and students and teachers who are having a difficult time adapting to this and, it's something you don't want to continue. But one of the things that happening is as time goes on, and people are, are working more at it, they're getting better at it. So, you know, that's the adaptability. The people in the city of Amsterdam are adapting to this environment. And we are, we are saying, okay, how can we do this differently and still get it done and that's what's happening in our schools, but I would hate you know, it has been a very difficult time to try and teach kids remotely especially since each household is not set up the same, you know, in terms of you know, access etc., computer equipment, etc. So, all I can say is they’re doing the best they can. And there certainly are situations where that's not good enough for some people.
And then just one last question about moving forward as the New York on PAUSE order is being lifted for the Mohawk Valley. What does this look like for you in regards to coordinating with other leaders in the region?
Yeah, I stay in constant contact with our county, with our regional planning committee, and I also take part in the daily briefings that are on the phone conferences. So I'm constantly updating the information that we have to work with in terms of case load, infection rates. Again, we are lucky when I say we, our region is a very undense region. We have a very, you know, there's 50,000 people in our county, but I've got 18,000 people in the city so I'm a lot denser than the rest of my county is. So I have concerns about the infection rates, the hospitals here, so I'm keeping an eye on those things as well. But we are in touch with the county. I talk to the people in the hospital. I try to stay in touch with everyone on at least a weekly, many cases a daily basis just to make sure that we understand what's going on and we are able to respond to it. I just extended our emergency period, our city state of emergency until the end of this month, with the one exception of the Phase 1 businesses reopening. And so we are you know, we are staying on top of it and we are communicating with our county and area municipalities as much as we can to make sure we're working together.