Submitted by Janet Bear
At a Zoom session co-hosted by The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit and LMC Media this week, Westchester County Executive George Latimer provided an update on Covid-19’s status and economic impact on Westchester County and answered listeners’ questions.
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
Latimer stated that, as of September 12th, there are 587 active Covid-19 cases in the County; down from a high of 12,000 last spring, but up from two weeks ago. Thirty-eight of those people are hospitalized. We have tested nearly 600,000 people, eight percent of whom tested positive. County officials look at the daily infection rate, which has been at or below one percent for a quite a while, which is good. Unfortunately, we have lost 1,453 County residents to this virus.
We manage to reduce the spread by wearing masks, using hand sanitizers, maintaining social distance and, at the County level, closing parks (i.e. Playland) and cancelling certain events (like July 4th firework displays or ethnic festivals at Kensico Dam). The State government makes most decisions on closing businesses but the County works with local governments and businesses on implementation. To a great extent, Westchester residents have embraced the rigor necessary to manage this virus, as best we can. Latimer stated that government mandates, requiring mask wearing or social distancing, are difficult to enforce. He encourages public education and peer level influence.
At the County level, the estimated impact on the revenue stream, primarily from a reduction in sales and hotel tax, is $150 million, on a $2.1 billion budget. Initially $60 million in cuts were taken, including a voluntary severance program for employees that reduced our County workforce by five percent. Latimer is hopeful that sales tax revenues will bounce back with back to school and holiday spending, and increased housing demand from NYC residents. He stated his concern over potential loss of budgeted revenue from the State, and questioned whether the Federal Government will provide much needed assistance. Local, County and State budgets must be balanced, but not Federal budgets.
HELP FOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES
Latimer stated that the worst impact of the virus has been in our poorest communities. Food insecurity is on the rise, and local volunteer organizations including Feeding Westchester and the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Hunger Task Force are covering double the number of people. It is anticipated that homelessness will rise when current eviction restrictions are lifted. His administration is working on building 1400 units of affordable housing throughout the County. The County Economic Development Team is working with local Chambers of Commerce and small businesses to implement a half million-dollar grant/loan program to aid with the crisis.
CON EDISON ISSUES
Latimer responded to a question about the recent extensive power outage throughout the area due to hurricane, Isaias. Unfortunately, the County has no leverage with respect to Con Edison. The NY State Public Service Commission controls the utilities. PSC held a public session about three weeks ago, questioning the executives involved. Latimer would like to see an increase in the permanent staff of Con Edison, as well as the development of a reserve corps to be called up to speed the response for future emergency needs.
In his closing remarks, Latimer explained his reason for establishing a two-term limit on the County Executive position. This limit doesn’t impact the Legislative branch where he understands that legislative effectiveness is often enhanced by the length of time served. However, Latimer believes that the unitary power the executive holds needs to be restrained by time, giving those that follow the opportunity to implement their vision.
This forum was co-hosted by the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit and LMC Media. The Local Summit is an informal community council that seeks to make life better for all in the tri-municipal area. To view this Zoom Forum: http://bit.ly/lmcmedia_latimer. To learn more about The Local Summit: https://www.localsummitlm.org/. To learn more about LMC Media: https://lmcmedia.org/. Our next program, entitled “Domestic Violence: What is it? What can we do about it? Are we doing it?” will be Tuesday, October 13, 8:00 am.