At a closed press conference televised live on LCTV Wednesday, Niagara County 8th District Legislator Richard Andres said Niagara County intends to extend the April 1 county tax deadline by 30 days. A formal legislature vote is slated for Friday.
The chairman of the economic development committee said, “For those people that would be paying their county tax bills by the deadline April 1, what we're looking to do at our Friday meeting – we're going to have it pass; I've talked to a number of legislators; we've got the support – to push that deadline of April 1. Allow for a 30-day moratorium, if you want to call it that, on penalties and interest. Because people that are going to pay those bills, maybe put that money towards the county taxes, won't have the liquidity to make it through this crisis; won't have money to pay for their other suppliers and so forth; and we don't want to see a rash of foreclosures and people putting liens on their property.
“So, we're going to push that tax deadline back for 30 days. Now, if at 30 days we're still in this same spot, or things have changed, we're going to reevaluate. We're going to reevaluate going forward. Everything at every level of government is looking at how can we help people; how can we assist our friends and families and businesses that we've come to know and love everywhere in our community. And when we get to that 30-day period, we'll reevaluate and do what's best by not only our taxpayers, but also our businesses and residents, as well.”
Andres explained, “This is clearly a difficult time for everyone, and our homeowners and small businesses are stretched – sometimes to the breaking point of this period of time. I hear all the time about people how they're going to make payroll, or how they're going to pay for the rent; various suppliers expect payment. And we have all kinds of issues like that throughout Niagara County.
“So, when we're asked, as legislators, what can Niagara County do to help, certainly we're leaving no stone unturned. We're looking, at every level, what we can do to assist people to get through this crisis with the least damage as possible.”
He explained, “We could see this – as soon as they started announcing closures – that this was going to be a significant problem for small businesses. So, the economic development department, which is fantastic at growing businesses, now is in a mode of trying to save businesses.”
Andres encouraged small-business owners to visit www.NiagaraCountyBusiness.com for additional resources.
“It'll link you to various grants for assistance, various programs that are being built, as we speak, to try to get businesses the aid that they need in order to stay afloat during this very trying time.”
Andres said, “I've reached out to my colleagues; I've heard from businesses; I've heard from families; I heard from friends and all kinds of different folks out there in the community, expressing this concern. And we looked at our policies, and we thought, ‘Maybe there's a way that, in this situation, we could help?’ And so, in speaking with my colleagues, who have been reaching out – my fellow legislators have been tremendous – everybody's all hands on deck, working tirelessly to make sure that this crisis doesn't impact their communities in a terrible way.
“We've looked at our county tax deadline as a possible way that we could kind of adjust the way we do business to make it work for county taxpayers, and that’s businesses, and homeowners, as well, because homeowners are, of course, stretched, just as businesses are."
Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh provided an update on the coronavirus spread in Niagara County.
“I can announce today that we have two new positive COVID-19 test results in Niagara County,” she said. “The first is a 62-year-old female in the Town of Pendleton, who is isolating at her home. The second is a 59-year-old female in North Tonawanda, also isolating at home.
“That brings our total number of positive cases of COVID-19 to date to 14 in Niagara County, with 13 currently in isolation.
“The good news is one of those individuals has made it through; they are doing well; they're recovered, and we are now not counting them in our positive cases. That person is out of isolation and recovered.
“Currently we have 67 individuals in quarantine. … with 32 people who have been released from quarantine, as well. We are also still waiting on two pending tests to come back; we did not have those results back yet."
Wydysh explained, “If you were watching the governor's update this morning, you'll have heard that there are nearly 31,000 cases statewide, with 5,000 new cases being recorded today in New York state. We are currently considered the hot spot in the country. New York state does have the highest number of cases of COVID-19 throughout the country – significantly higher than any other state. (Of) all of those tested positive in New York state, there are currently 12% that are hospitalized, with 3% of those individuals needing ICU care.
“We continue to feel the frustration of testing here in Niagara County; we've said over and over again that, if we had the ability to do testing at the level that we would like to right now, that our numbers would certainly be much higher. That is frustration that's being felt all over the state – we are not alone. Many, many counties are wishing that they had more tests available, and were able to do that.
“At this point, testing is being done by health care providers who are treating someone who is sick, or in the hospital. Those few tests that are available are, of course, being saved for the individuals who are currently being treated and have to have a diagnosis to help with their treatment options. Once those tests are done, they do go to the state Department of Health, and those results make their way back to our Niagara County Department of Health as they come in.
Wydysh cautioned the public that “most of those positive cases that we talked about were not on our radar screen to begin with. These were not individuals that we were in contact with until they received a test and the information came back to us.
"Again we tell you, please keep in mind – as we have thought all along – that COVID-19 is everywhere in our community. Just because you haven't heard of a test result that's come back in your town or village or city doesn't mean it's not there. We continue to encourage everyone to follow the social distancing guidelines and all of those guidelines and mandates put out by the governor to stay home if you are not an essential worker; don't go out unless you absolutely need to. Keep yourself home and safe.”