On Friday afternoon, just hours after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his new mandate for all non-essential businesses in the state to keep 100 percent of their employees home effective Sunday evening, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro held an hour long telephone town hall with local business owners and leaders addressing the County’s response to the evolving Coronavirus pandemic. Executive Molinaro was joined by Frank Castella Jr. President and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Louise McLoughlin Executive Director of the Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board, Mary Kay Vrba President and CEO of Dutchess Tourism, Inc., and Ron Hicks, Dutchess County’s Assistant County Executive for Strategic Planning and Economic Development to provide updates and field questions from business owners across the county regarding economic assistance during state mandated closures and cutbacks.
“Dutchess County has activated our Emergency Response System since the onset of COVID-19,” said Executive Molinaro, “the Governor’s office has since led a very aggressive response to this crisis. It is critical to keep our business owners informed as situations change.” Dutchess County administrators have since established the Dutchess Business Notification Network for just that purpose (dutchessbnn.com). “We recognize the need for information,” said Castella Jr. “however accurate information is key, there has been a wealth of false information spreading throughout social media.” Firstly, in response to the Governor’s Sunday mandate, Executive Molinaro attempted to clear the air when it comes to the terms ‘essential’ vs. ‘non-essential’. “I don’t like the term non-essential. The language doesn’t mean your business isn’t important to the functioning of our economy. It’s not really a question of being open or closed, it’s about staffing and determining how many employees are needed to run the business on a given day because we need to slow the spread of this virus.”
Executive Molinaro confirmed there have been just over 30 individuals who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in Dutchess County but deemed the number “immaterial”, expecting the number to rise significantly in the coming weeks. According to Molinaro, the reason for such broad mandates is to relieve the pressure on upstate healthcare workers, “We don’t want this virus to overload our healthcare structure. As these cases move north from the city, there will be increased pressure on our healthcare system overall.” When it comes to the possibility of further testing and future sites for mobile units, Executive Molinaro mentioned that the New York State Department of Health must first approve testing sites but does expect to have the capacity for mobile testing by early next week.
A few area business owners asked how their particular fields would be impacted including the Hotel industry which has been deemed essential but should “minimize staff” according to Vrba. Area golf courses should “prepare to close” according to Executive Molinaro while State Park grounds will remain open despite their facilities being closed. As the tension within the local economy tightens, small business owners are directed to the Dutchess County’s website dutchessny.gov for further assistance with temporary relief or to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Louise McLoughlin echoed similar suggestions when discussing those who are seeking unemployment insurance-a number expected to rise exponentially in the coming weeks- to the NYS Department of Labor for insurance claims and shared work programs.
When it comes to employers looking to shed the burden of sales taxes during these times of uncertainty, Molinaro was less sure. Though Dutchess County is not responsible for the collection of sales tax, when contacting state officials on the matter, “The sentiment we received was if you collect them, they still want you to pay them. We are still waiting to hear from them regarding eliminating the sales tax fees.”
If you are a small business owner or employee in Dutchess County looking for more information or relief please visit dutchessny.gov, dutchessbnn.com, or the labor.ny.gov