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Cuomo mandates non-essential businesses close during crisis

Molinaro reassures businesses during telephone Town Hall

HARLEM VALLEY — The future of the region’s economy is shaky at best these days, in light of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down much of the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday, March 20, that he was signing the “New York State on PAUSE” executive order, described on www.governor.ny.gov as “a 10-point policy to assure uniform safety for everyone. It includes a new directive that all non-essential businesses statewide must close in-office personnel functions effective at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, and temporarily bans all non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason.”

The Millerton Business Alliance (MBA) commented on the measure in an email on Friday evening.

“It is a chilling thought, but it is of utmost importance that we all stay home and stay safe. There is no cure for this virus and it spreads easily. Connecticut has adopted the same restriction on businesses. As they say, good luck to us all.”

Telephone Town Hall call

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro held a telephone Town Hall Friday at 1 p.m., open to Dutchess businesspeople with questions about the latest restrictions. The hour-long meeting patched through roughly 6,000 callers, according to Molinaro at meeting’s start. Also participating in the call, President and CEO of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce Frank Castella Jr., Executive Director of the Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board Louise McLoughlin, President and CEO of Dutchess County Tourism Mary Kay Vrba and Assistant County Executive for Strategic Planning and Economic Development Ron Hicks.

Castella said the Chamber “early on in this crisis recognized the need for information, to keep operations moving.” It formed the Business Notification Network group, which emails critical business updates and posts them on its website, www.dutchessbnn.com. Castella said his office “has turned very much into a newsroom. We’re trying only to use information from elected officials that is accurate, as folks are getting a lot of misinformation on social medial. We’re doing our best to distill the information.”

Molinaro responded to one business owner’s question about the governor’s edict, saying while it will be tough on businesses, the restrictions are merited.

“If we can slow the transmission, this disease won’t hurt as many people and won’t overload health care system,” said the county exec, adding businesses that are still operating, like restaurants doing take-out and delivery, should rethink their staffing. “If you ordinarily staff 12 people, can you function with two? It could be two different people every shift. The governor is trying to reduce the number of people on the road in the community.

“I know the burden this places on you,” he added. “It’s more important to identify how many people actually need to work in order to operate.”

Another caller asked how many Dutchess residents have tested positive for the virus. On Friday, that answer was “just over 30,” with a warning that “as testing ramps up” those numbers will skyrocket. Tuesday morning, the number was 100, according to the state Department of Health (DOH).

“We didn’t have the ability to ramp up testing as quickly as we should have,” Molinaro said. “Accessing testing was slow. The federal government acknowledged that.”

The DOH must approve all testing sites. Just Monday, both Dutchess and Ulster Counties announced two new testing locations, in conjunction with Nuvance Health. (See story, A1).

“But understand,” Molinaro said to callers, “we will never have enough tests to test everyone. We should all function as if we have contracted or will contract COVID-19.”

A caller in hotel management asked about his business, and whether it’s considered essential. Hotels are considered essential, according to the state’s criteria. Still, Molinaro suggested reducing staff, if possible, and, if a hotel chain has multiple locations, perhaps closing some locations and consolidating guests into fewer buildings.

Molinaro added that while still able to operate, hotels should remember that “we are not running tourism spots at this point.”

The general manager of The Links golf course in Union Vale asked about whether it could remain open.

“The short answer: You should prepare to close,” replied Molinaro. “The assumption is that you will not be deemed necessary to remain open.”

A list of essential businesses can be found on www.esd.ny.gov/guidance-executive-order-2026.

Vrba spoke of which county attractions, including parks and historic sites, remain open. A list of closures of can be found at www.dutchesstourism.com.

Helpful suggestions

Pine Plains town Supervisor Darrah Cloud praised county efforts in her Dear Pine Plains newsletter sent out via email on Friday.

“I feel enormously fortunate to be living in Dutchess County where the truly forward-thinking leadership has been able to stay sane, competent and helpful to us all, “ she wrote. “We are one of the few counties in the state eligible for Small Business Association (SBA) loans, and money is being raised for an emergency fund to help businesses in the coming months as the true cost of the pandemic is realized.”

With the president’s approval, the United States SBA is offering low-interest federal disaster loans to small businesses suffering substantial loss due to the pandemic, through the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. Applicants may apply online and download applications at www.disasterloan.sba.gov/ela and call the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for assistance. U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY 19) recommended Dutchess County small business owners also contact the local SBA District Office at 315-471-9393, the Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center at 845-802-9150 or his office, at 518-267-4123.

“[The loans] offer up to $2 million in assistance per small business and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing,” stated Delgado. “These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.”

Hicks added more information during the county phone call.

“Even though there will be a tremendous amount of applications, they could turn around in about a week, then it will take another two to three weeks to process the loans,” he said.

Sales tax

A restaurateur asked about sales taxes, which were due on the 20th. “Most businesses do not have the funds to pay the entire bill,” said the caller. “Did anything come down from governor regarding sales tax?”

“I don’t want to sound like it’s somebody else’s problem, but Dutchess County doesn’t collect sales tax,” replied Molinaro, explaining it’s a state function. “If you collected it, they want you  to pay it. But if you don’t have the money, it’s going to be impossible to pay.”

Hicks added that he, the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce and others “over the weekend pushed out to state reps that we’d like to see a grace period or delay” in the sales tax due date, or “at least eliminate the penalty fee that exists for 45 days. We’re still working with regional representatives, government offices and state representatives.”

Also helping businesses navigate the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC).

“We are working closely with all of our partners in the government, health, educational, nonprofit and business communities to ensure that we minimize the spread of the disease and adverse economic impacts,” stated the CEDC via email last week.

The CEDC can be reached at www.columbiaedc.com or 518-828 4718.

Looking ahead

Any and all help can make a difference, as dealing with closures is difficult for any business.

“Closing an entire operation is extremely hard and our hearts go out to all our local business friends and colleagues who are going through this. We appreciate your continued support through this difficult and uncertain period,” wrote Oblong Books & Music co-owners Dick and Suzanna Hermans in an email notifying customers they must change their business model and are “brainstorming” on how to do that.

One caller asked Molinaro how long he expects this new normal to continue.

“I expect it to be a four- to eight-week window… of limited activity. Certainly all the month of April,” Molinaro said. “If you look at how this disease has moved across other countries, it’s likely we’re in the middle of a 10- to 12-week window.”

When a caller offered his fleet of buses to help the county deal with the crisis, Molinaro recommended people “visit www.dutchessny.gov if you have a service you want to offer, or volunteer, or to make a contribution. There are countless people who ordinarily deal with hardship; that number is going to grow exponentially.”

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