Legislators urge state to redraw boundaries
Putnam legislators this week continued calling for the state to revise the counties included in the Mid-Hudson region so that they can begin reopening when the shutdown compelled by COVID-19 lifts.
The region, which also includes Sullivan, Ulster, Orange and hard-hit Rockland and Westchester, as of Thursday (May 21) still needed to meet two of the seven criteria to begin Phase 1 of reopening under a plan set by the state. Seven of the 10 regions in the state have met the criteria, with Long Island and New York City being the other exceptions.
The discussion occurred Monday (May 18) during the Legislature’s Economic Development and Energy Committee meeting, held by audio connection.
County Executive MaryEllen Odell and her Dutchess County counterpart, Marc Molinaro, both Republicans, had urged New York State to consider them separately redraw regional boundaries to isolate Rockland and Westchester.
Molinaro said “that conversation’s over” on Thursday (May 21), during a press conference organized by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. But Putnam officials are still pressing the issue.
“We’re the closest we’ve ever been” to hitting all the requirements for Phase 1, said Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac, a committee member. “Our Putnam businesses are suffering. I can’t imagine not having a paycheck” or operating a business for two months. “I implore the governor to please hear us in Putnam County and separate the northern and southern parts of the region.”
Legislator Toni Addonizio of Kent likewise backed Odell’s two-district plan because “we need to move forward.”
Kathleen Abels, president of the Putnam County Economic Development Corp. (PCEDC), who participated in the meeting, acknowledged “a lot of concern about being pulled down by Westchester” in fulfilling the reopening mandates. But with contact tracing, in which volunteers or state employees contact people confirmed to be COVID-positive and determine who they may have come in contact with, “Westchester is actually carrying the region,” Abels said.
“It’s very clear the governor is calling the shots” on the regional boundaries, despite the appeals from Putnam, she told the legislators.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, a Democrat who represents Philipstown and serves on the Legislature’s Economic Development Committee, objected to the campaign to realign the Mid-Hudson Region.
“I don’t think we should consider pulling out of anything until we know what data we have,” she said, citing a need for tracing and reiterating her call, issued three months ago, for information on the number of COVID-19 patients from Putnam treated by hospitals other than Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel.
“We’re not ready to reopen,” Montgomery said. “We don’t meet the matrix. We’re creating chaos by saying we’re ready.”
She contended that instead of lobbying state officials to create a new Mid-Hudson region, “why don’t we plead with them to get more testing?”
Montgomery again criticized a May 6 newspaper ad placed by the county that claimed “Putnam County [Is] Ready to Reopen.” It bore the PCEDC logo and was issued in the names of Odell, Addonizio and the county Legislature.
“Who approved that? Who put the Legislature’s name on that?” asked Montgomery. “I did not see it come before me.”
Legislator William Gouldman, a Republican who represents Putnam Valley, said he also had not been aware of the ad.
Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac said that for an ad from the PCEDC, a county-funded entity, “there doesn’t need to be any approval from the Legislature.” He also said that when viewed separately, Putnam satisfies “seven out of seven of the metrics” for reopening. (In a virtual “town hall” on May 20, Molinaro noted that Dutchess County, considered alone, also has met all seven criteria.)
“We should be focusing on the good numbers, the positive numbers,” he said. “With 100,000 people, we’re in great shape, doing a great job.” He recommended that Montgomery focus on the “negative” forces in Albany “holding us back” and keeping businesses closed.
Jennifer Maher, who chairs the Putnam County Business Council, also joined in the meeting. “We all want us to reopen as soon possible,” she said. “But I feel we want to do it correctly, because reopening and closing [again] is more detrimental.”
In related developments, the PCEDC formed an advisory committee of small-business representatives whose members include Kimball Gell, co-owner of Dolly’s Restaurant in Garrison. In a news release on Monday, Abels described the panel as “a forum for small businesses to voice their concerns and share ideas that will help them to survive and prepare for a new economic reality.”
Also on Monday, the first teleconference hosted by the Reopen Putnam Safely Task Force of the Putnam County Business Council brought together more than 300 businesses. It reported after the event that along with voicing concerns about obtaining affordable personal protective equipment such as masks, the “overwhelming majority” of attendees said they lacked adequate understanding of the procedures for reopening safely, especially for those eligible to resume activity in a later phase of the reopening.
The 24-member task force includes Robert Flaherty of the Philipstown Town Council; Fran Murphy of the Cold Spring Village Board; Lisa Mechaley of the Nelsonville Village Board; Nat Prentice of the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce; Caryn Cannova of Kismet at Caryn’s; and Tina Sherwood of Downey Oil.
In a virtual “town hall” on May 13, Molinaro said the criteria on new hospitalizations and deaths may prove difficult for the Mid-Hudson region because a single day with an increase resets the 14-day clock.
He said that one impediment for the region is a change in a requirement for contact tracers. While Dutchess meets the metric of 30 contact tracers per 100,000 people, the Mid-Hudson Regional Control Room recently announced the number of tracers in the region would be based on infection rate, rather than population. That, he said, requires the region to have some 1,800 tracers, and Dutchess to have 250.
Molinaro noted the state is hiring tracers, and that Dutchess is recruiting volunteers. Training takes four hours. Individuals interested in volunteering can email their name, email address and phone number to email@example.com. To apply for a paid position, see careers-pcgus.icims.com. Dutchess volunteers can also hold paid positions, Molinaro said.