As the coronavirus pandemic ravaged New York state in recent months, Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, president of the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, has led other local elected leaders in demanding the federal government provide economic aid to communities that have suffered financially because of the Covid-19 crisis.
During an Aug. 13 news conference, Kennedy said Freeport, the second-largest village in the state, was expected to lose $4.4 million in revenue because of the pandemic and had amassed nearly $4 million in expenses trying to combat the coronavirus’s spread.
Freeport was the third-most affected community in Nassau County, with more than 1,775 cases as of Aug. 18, according to the county Department of Health.
“We need our representatives in Congress to afford us funding on the lost revenue side of the equation,” Kennedy said. “We see large municipalities like Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead get their funding, but that doesn’t trickle down to us. Freeport has yet to see a single penny.”
When the pandemic caused shutdowns across the state, municipalities like Freeport suspended parking meter regulations and avoided writing tickets for non-egregious parking violations. Recreation centers and other public buildings were also shut down, causing even greater loses in fixed revenue for months.
Employees of the police, fire and sanitation departments, as well as other essential village workers, were paid overtime throughout the height of the pandemic, when dozens of new cases were reportedly daily.
“Throughout this pandemic, our essential employees . . . have been delivering the services and helping our communities and our country through this pandemic,” Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said. “When you look at what’s contributing to the financial challenges, it is literally a perfect storm of revenue constraints. The only way that we solve this issue is through the federal government providing direct aid to local governments.”
Kennedy added that Freeport was also the first village in the state to give out free masks to residents, handing out 10,000 masks from May to August.
“These were measures we had to put in place to protect residents,” Kennedy said.
The village applied for an expense reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but Kennedy explained that the village would at best receive 75 percent of its $4 million back, leaving the village with a $1 million loss in expenses alone.
Mayors from across New York agreed during the Aug. 13 news conference that while the state faced a $30 billion deficit, many local municipalities had maintained sound budgets and that the loss of revenue was not a result of mismanagement.
“Our finances were in very good shape prior to Covid-19, and the losses of revenues leave mayors with very few options,” said Richard David, Binghamton’s mayor and NYCOM’s first vice president. “This money isn’t needed tomorrow; it was needed yesterday. This impacts our overall national economy.”
Kennedy said NYCOM would continue to lobby Congress to distribute funds at the city and village levels to help local municipalities restart their economies as states continue their reopening efforts.
“This isn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue,” Kennedy said. “This is an issue for all of our residents. Let’s get this country moving again, and let’s help those local municipalities throughout the country.”