ANCRAM—Though it was the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Ancram Town Board, March 19, there wasn’t much that was regular about it.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic saw to that.
All town board members, the town clerk and the town highway superintendent were present as usual, but their seating arrangement had changed. The officials were seated in a wide semi-circle that spanned the width of the meeting room—each person sitting at least six feet from the person next to them, some at individual tables.
One board member wore pink latex gloves.
The Town Hall was closed to the public, but the board allowed one reporter and two other members of the public to attend—citing one of Governor Cuomo’s recent executive orders to limit the size of public meetings to no more than 10 people. Wisely, no one but the reporter showed up.
In his financial report, Town Supervisor Art Bassin suggested that the COVID-19 situation will likely have a significant negative impact on 2020 sales tax receipts. Towns will be lucky to get 50% of the usual sales tax amounts, as restaurants and other enterprises go out of business and purchasing and sales drop.
On the bright side, the lack of snow this winter has left the town with full supplies of sand and salt and fuel prices are way down.
Councilman David Boice noted the town will likely not take a hit on mortgage sales tax because “a lot of people want out of downstate, they are looking for land—like in 2001.” Later in the meeting he observed there “are a lot more people in the area now than usual.”
His observation was echoed this week in an email advisory from Columbia County Director of Solid Waste Jolene Race, who wrote, “Our concern is that the garbage is increasing because more people are home, cooking/ordering take-out and coming home early (snowbirds and weekenders) and generating waste. The past couple of days we have been receiving numerous calls from people new to the area that have decided to bunker down here until NYC is clear, which is an additional population of waste generators we do not normally serve.”
All county solid waste stations are currently open at normal hours and days. Because the department is deemed an essential service, transfer stations will remain open “until which time we don’t have adequate staffing.
“Should we experience staffing issues, we plan to scale down operations at each station,” she wrote.
Flipping through the pages of the Columbia County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Management Plan, Councilmember Bonnie Hundt noted, “There is nothing in here on pandemics.”
On a related subject, Supervisor Bassin said he placed an order through County Emergency Management Director David Harrison for 70 seven-ounce spray bottles to be filled with hand-sanitizer and given to every town employee, committee and board member. “The Governor’s special blend?” asked Ms. Hundt.
Highway Superintendent Jim Miller said he and other highway bosses across the county have been struggling with how to minimize close contact between their employees.
In response, he presented the board with a list of employee guidelines he has provided to his staff. In addition to the six-foot social distancing rule, and the wearing of plastic gloves, other practices include:
*To work with just a half crew on a rotating basis when weather conditions or other factors do not require a full crew
*Employees not on duty will remain on call
*No more than one employee in a vehicle or machine unless unavoidable
*Employees will sanitize the controls of vehicles or machines before they leave for the day.
Mr. Miller said when a full staff is not needed, those employees who are off will be paid for their time. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
Mr. Bassin noted that if one employee comes down with the virus, everyone will have to be sent home.
The supervisor also mentioned that the Ancramdale Neighbors Helping Neighbors Association has put out a message saying they are ready to help anyone who needs it and they are seeking to enlist new younger volunteers. He said that while some new volunteers have stepped forward, no one has asked for help.
Mr. Boice said this only the first week and there are going to be people who need help. He said he tells people to pay their mortgage, car payments and their electric bills. “We’ll make sure there’s food for everyone. We’re going to do it because that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Looking ahead, Mr. Bassin said if schools do not reopen before summer, the county may close all summer camps and pools for the season.
The town should be aware of this and try to find ways to employ all the young people who would otherwise work for the town as camp counselors and lifeguards. The town should also think of ways to provide activities for campers, short of running a summer camp, he said.
Sixty-five youngsters usually enroll in the town’s Kids’ Camp and the town employs about 20 young adults to supervise them.
Another popular future event may feel the coronavirus impact. Mr. Boice, who is also the fire chief, noted that the Roe Jan area Memorial Day Parade is scheduled to happen in Ancram this year. “A lot can change” between now and then, he said.
Though the coronavirus will likely shut things down for longer than a couple of weeks, Mr. Bassin said, “We can’t stop operating [our] town.”
To contact Diane Valden email