Image: San Bernadino County

I imagine that when all of this passes, Webster’s Dictionary will have a new “Word of the Year” that none of us have heard because it does not yet exist within our lexicon. Crazy, unbelievable, incredible, overwhelming – none of these words quite capture the feelings we all have right now as our lives are increasingly upended and the challenges we face – and will continue to endure for the foreseeable future – become more and more evident.

However, moments like these present communities with the potential to pull together in ways that are hard to imagine when times are good. Like many of you, I keep thinking back to the months after 9-11 when our society was able to find the very best in itself. We have that opportunity again as we each find our role by doing things such as teaching our children, supporting our coworkers and employees, making sure neighbors who are older or may be ill have what they need, reaching out by phone or computer to people who live alone and are in need of social interaction, buying local to the extent possible, and generally helping out in any way we can.

The purpose of this blog has always been to share information. As we begin to navigate through this uncertain time, I will do my best to provide as much information as I can about what is happening in the Chemung County Legislature as well as the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency, including things those entities can do to help you.

Please understand that, like you, my life has been turned upside down. Working hard to make sure all of the needs of my clients at the Ziff Law Firm are met, my duties to the country fulfilled and my 5th and 2nd grade daughters are educated is an extraordinarily tall task. I will share information through this blog as well as the Chemung County Matters Facebook page whenever possible to do my part to help us all stay informed.

Chemung County Executive Chris Moss, Chemung County Industrial Development Agency Director Joe Roman and Southern Tier Economic Growth Senior Economic Development Manager Jill Koski deserve a lot of thanks for the incredible efforts they are making to keep the public and those who work in both government and business up to date on what is happening. It is inspiring to see that we can all come together as a fully unified team for our community when it really counts.

County Legislature Meetings

The Chemung County Legislature will continue to maintain its regular 2020 meeting schedule.

However, a recent Executive Order enacted by Governor Cuomo last week has suspended aspects of New York’s “Open Meetings Law” in order to protect the health and safety of local elected officials and personnel, as well as the community at large.

Given New York State’s ban on gatherings of any size along with the fact that the Hazlett Building is closed to the public, the following changes are now in effect:

  • All meetings are closed to the public;
  • All legislators aside from the chairperson will call in to meetings to avoid face-to-face contact;
  • The telephonic meetings will be recorded and, along with the meeting’s minutes, made available to the public on the Chemung County Legislature’s webpage within 24 hours of the meeting’s conclusion;
  • Agendas will continue to be available ahead of the meetings through the online novus system; and
  • Anyone who wishes to offer public comment to the Legislature for meetings or public hearings must submit their comments in writing to publiccomment@chemungcountyny.gov

As someone who cares very deeply about the public’s right to know and governmental transparency, I am saddened that these measures need to be taken but fully understand and agree that this is the most prudent way to proceed for now.

Lessons from Westchester County

As we all know, Westchester County has unfortunately been on the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. In this podcast, Westchester County Executive George Latimer shares his insights about things counties can do to prepare based on his experience so far. Although we all hope Chemung County never finds itself in this position, it is helpful to learn from leaders who have already found themselves in it.

Potential Economic Impacts for Chemung County

We are still in the very acute stages of this global crisis, and the focus right now is appropriately on saving lives and preventing an overrun of medical centers in the United States.

As the immediate threat subsides in coming months, our focus will likely shift to the economic fallout caused by COVID-19.

Economic analysts with the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) has begun to analyze potential impacts for counties across New York. With news cycles in overdrive, the report embedded below, published on March 18th, is already dated, yet it provides a good starting point for this conversation. Disaster assistance and other municipal relief from state and federal governments will help offset some of the losses we are sure to incur, but sales and room tax revenue in Chemung County are all but certain fall short of our budgeted projections.

Chemung County Industrial Development Agency Meetings

Like the Legislature, the Chemung County Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA) will close its meetings to the public for now, and all board members aside from the chairperson will call in rather than appear in person.

Members of the public may view meetings in real time on Chemung County’s live meeting portal. Meeting minutes will be posted on the CCIDA website as soon as possible following the meeting’s conclusion.

Our next regular meeting will be held on March 26th at 9:30 am.

CCIDA – Public Hearing on the Reidman Building

For the reasons stated above regarding public meetings for the Legislature and CCIDA, the Public Hearing scheduled for March 25th at 10:00 am with respect to a project by Riedman Properties Elmira LLC, will be held electronically via conference call instead of an open hearing where the public can attend.

Members of the public may view the hearing here and may comment on the project during the hearing by calling (415) 655-0002 and using an access code of 719 688 649. The hearing’s minutes will posted on the CCIDA website as soon as possible after the hearing concludes.

Help for local businesses – and ways to help out

CCIDA Director Joe Roman, STEG Economic Manager Jill Koski and other economic development leaders have been sharing ways local businesses can get help, and how people who now find themselves with additional time or resources can help those in need.

The list below is information I have received to date. I will continue to share additional information as it becomes available:

The main source of information about COVID-19 in New York can be found here.

Empire State Development (ESD) has set up a website along with a FAQ page for individuals and businesses with business-related COVID-19 issues.

ESD has also provided a guide sheet for determining which businesses are considered “essential” as opposed “non-essential.” All businesses not on the “Essential Business List” must comply with the Executive Order regarding 100% closure, but can submit a request to ESD for special consideration through this link. Questions for ESD can be asked here. A few important points are listed below:

If your business is part of an exempt industry/function on the essential list, you do not have to submit an application.

Even if your business is deemed essential, please take all practical steps to reduce density by allowing remote working and implementing social distancing.

Even if your business (or a portion of your business) is on the essential list, any other business activities being completed at your location that are not essential are still subject to the Executive Order.

Any business that only has a single occupant/employee (i.e. gas station) has been deemed exempt and need not submit a request to be designated as an essential business.

Locally, Southern Tier Economic Growth (STEG) has added a COVID-19 section to its website

The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) has instituted new rules related to unemployment insurance that include extended hours and restrictions about when to file based on your last name. Information can be found here.

The DOL’s Shared Work Program provides an alternative to laying off employees during business downturns by providing reduced work schedules and collecting partial unemployment insurance benefits for up to 26 weeks. Instead of cutting staff, businesses are able to reduce the number of hours for all employees and/or a particular group.Many businesses and organizations have expressed a desire to support New York State as it responds to the virus outbreak. Individuals or groups looking to volunteer or contribute to the State’s effort should contact the Governor’s Office at covid19assistance@exec.ny.gov.

Finally, New York’s Small Business Association (SBA) is administering a program to provide Economic Disaster Loans. This appears to be the primary program in New York where businesses can apply for relief. When filling out the application, found here, please note (a) the disaster was declared on March 21, 2020; (b) the Disaster Declaration number is 16346; (c) the New York Disaster Number is NY-00197 Declaration of Economic Injury. 

Again, I will try my best to share information as it becomes available.

Christina Sonsire