Counties have been leading local response to global public health emergency, but at substantial local costs
Guest Editorial by the New York State County Executives' Association
A bipartisan group of county executives has called on congressional leaders and the president to compromise on a new federal stimulus package that provides funding for states and local governments, which have been and continue to be on the front lines of fighting the pandemic and reopening their local economies.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. joined NYSAC Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario on a Zoom press conference that detailed the need to federal leaders to help the governments that fought the pandemic, lost revenues, and are now working to rebuild local economies.
To watch a recording of the press conference, click here.
While New York state provided guidance on how to respond to the pandemic, it was the 57 counties and the City of New York that turned those plans into action. County public health departments, county emergency response programs, public works departments and social services were all engaged in the local response to the global pandemic. And they engaged successfully. New York has gone from 40% of all confirmed COVID cases in the nation, in the early days of the pandemic, to about 10% today.
But New York State’s success has come at a cost.
“Over the last four months, counties and New York City have already seen a steep drop in sales tax revenues,” Acquario said. “When you couple those losses with an 80% decline in occupancy taxes, the loss of gaming revenue, and the latest round of state budget cuts, counties across the state are cutting services, road maintenance projects, critical senior and veterans’ programs, and employees.”
New York City, alone, projects a $9 billion loss in city revenues for the March 2020 through June 2021 period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This projection does not address cuts in state reimbursement. As a result, city agencies have had to make difficult funding decisions in order to balance the budget.
The four county executives spoke of the need for congressional leaders from across the nation to work on a bill that would provide direct and flexible aid to the counties that are leading the local response to the global pandemic.
McCoy said, “As the president of County Executives of America and the County Executive Association of NYSAC, I’ve heard from my counterparts about the difficult decisions they’ll need to make to address their budget crises, including closing parks, steep cuts to programs and even layoffs. Congress and the president are forcing our hands. They need to do what’s right and fair and prioritize smaller counties that have been on the frontlines of the pandemic and have been left behind in the last four stimulus packages. In Albany County, comparing January through June of 2019 to the same period this year, we have lost roughly $15.5 million in sales tax revenues alone due to COVID-19 and the economic shutdown. It’s estimated that that number could grow to $60 million, without factoring in lost hotel occupancy taxes and mid-year state aid cuts. New York counties collectively could be facing a $2 billion shortfall. That number could balloon depending on state reimbursement cuts as New York state is now estimating a $13 billion budget deficit. In four years, the state’s deficit could become an enormous $60 billion. We need help now and we need money that we can use without restrictions.”
Ryan said, “Across the United States, counties are serving as the first line of response to the COVID-19 epidemic. A failure to act by the United States Senate would devastate local governments across the country as they continue to fight daily to save lives on the frontlines of this pandemic.”
Picente said, “County governments have been on the frontline taking control of the coronavirus pandemic since day one. We are now facing an economic pandemic that threatens to cripple our operations and the communities we serve. We have a long road ahead of us, and desperately need federal relief to make it through. It’s disheartening that our leaders in Washington are unable to recognize the essential role that county governments are playing and are unwilling to support us in our critical effort.”
Molinaro said, “Dutchess County, like communities throughout the state, have experienced a sharp decline in tax revenue that would have seemed unfathomable just six months ago. While we continue to provide critical services to our residents, counties like Dutchess are facing dire fiscal realities that will only continue as the pandemic endures. We implore Congress and the president to work together in a true bipartisan spirit and develop a comprehensive and meaningful funding package that brings both financial support and relief to counties throughout New York state.”
The New York State County Executives' Association is an affiliate of NYSAC, which is a bipartisan municipal association serving all the counties of New York, including the City of New York. Organized in 1925, NYSAC's mission is to represent, educate, serve and advocate for member counties and the elected and appointed county officials who serve the public. For more information, visit www.nysac.org.