The mayor of Kingston, New York is trying to keep his residents safe while looking toward a gradual reopening. Meantime, he’s posing an economic recovery plan to address the city’s impending budget deficit, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Steve Noble spoke with WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne.
We've been working to educate the small business owners that reach out to us as to steps that they can take to be prepared, talking to restaurant tours, talking to our business associations, getting everyone ready. I think that there are some kind of easy wins, to be able to get, certain businesses reopened, but then there are some much harder conversations. As you know, Kingston is really a cultural tourism destination. We have some amazing nonprofit museums and performing arts centers. And we are concerned that even with kind of the first phases of reopening the concept of having large group events and opening our venues or having large community festivals, something that Kingston is so well known for, is going to be there's going to be some very difficult decisions and it's something that I know is going to You know, follow on, you know, city staff and administration to work to figure out some of these complex problems. But I do think that, you know, 2020 is going to be a very different year than what we all expected in January of 2020. And so, we are now bracing ourselves for a difficult year for many organizations, groups, individuals, and even with a phased reopening, we are really not going to be out of the woods, through some hopefully some date in 2021.
Are you considering closing any streets for pedestrian traffic only? You know, other cities are doing this in the name of social distancing while allowing people to get out and about?
Yes. We have a one good thing here in Kingston is that we are a relatively dispersed community and our density allows people to still walk out in and adjacent to our streets without too many people running into you. But we are looking at closing streets as an option to be able to help support our businesses as we potentially work under the new social distancing rules, and potentially having certain days of the week where businesses could come out onto the streets to be able to create more room. And so those are some of the innovative strategies that we're looking at to be able to help potentially use our public spaces to help provide more space between one another, as we go forward through this,
Are you concerned about the nursing home and nursing homes in your city?
Yeah, you know, we have been in contact with the Ulster County executive’s office and his health department staff. They are doing a great job trying to get the necessary testing kits that have been asked for, to be able to go and visit all of our nursing homes to make sure that all of our seniors are safe. You know, one of the things that is so important, and the things that we keep and the governor keeps talking about is Matilda's law. I'm making sure that we're keeping those over the age of 70 in a safe environment and nursing homes is kind of the epicenter for that. And so I'm really proud that the county has stepped up to do this additional testing and to be able to directly go into the nursing homes and it will help us further protect the residents of these facilities, and we do have a couple here in Kingston, and I know that they're starting to get those tested on as we speak.
Earlier this week, New York State officials announced another 1,700 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes across the state. Westchester is one county that has been granted permission by the state to begin testing every nursing home resident, which started Monday. On Wednesday, members of the New York State Senate Republican conference called for an independent investigation of the state's response to nursing home COVID related deaths. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has defended the state's policies. Meantime, Mayor Noble has proposed a three phase economic recovery plan that he hopes is helped by federal aid to local governments in the next Coronavirus relief package.
At this point, we believe that our losses will, you know, be approximately $5 million, you know, kind of better mid-range estimate. And the bills that have been working through the House of Representatives would provide somewhere between $5 to $7 million to cities the size of Kingston, that would be enough to kind of plug the sales tax hole and some of the other revenue sources that have dried up during this pandemic. And so we, for Kingston, we're trying to close that budget gap as best we can. But we know that if the loss does get to the nearly $5 million, that's going to include major service reductions and loss of employment for individuals, and we don't want to have to do that. And that's why we're getting, we're pushing so hard to get the federal government to step up. And in particular, you know, the US Senate, and I know that our representatives from the US Senate are fighting to fight for us, which is wonderful and we're lucky but there are lots of others from across the rest of the country that don't necessarily agree that local municipalities, you know, need assistance, but I hope that they're starting to hear from all of us and are recognizing the impacts that is occurring, right now in their own local communities.