MALONE –– The parking lot at the Franklin County Courthouse –– usually full on a weekday morning –– was eerily empty Thursday.
Only two rows of the four-level lot had any cars in them, and one of those rows was less than half full, as county employees followed the directive issued by county leaders that at least half of the county workforce stay home and closed county offices to the public except by appointment to help prevent a possible spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.
There were no confirmed cases of the virus in Franklin County as of a 9:15 a.m. briefing on the situation, said County Manager Donna Kissane, but 46 county residents were isolated or quarantined in case they were infected. That number began as three on Saturday and grew to seven on Monday, 29 on Tuesday, 33 on Wednesday and 46 on Thursday, she noted.
Those totals also do not include people who had gone into isolation but were no longer there because they had been tested and found to be negative for the virus, she added. Five people had left isolation on Thursday alone, she noted.
County Treasurer Fran Perry noted that her office, which usually has a staff of nine, had only three people working, including her, because of the workforce reduction. The office, which takes in tax payments among other duties, cannot legally function with fewer than two people because of the money it handles, she said, after Kissane told her that additional reductions are in the offing.
Kissane had announced Tuesday that the county would reduce its workforce in response to a directive from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. She also announced at that time that county offices would be closed to the public except by appointment.
“We just wanted to reduce density in the building,” Kissane said prior to the start of the Thursday meeting of the county Legislature.
Inside the county building, security checked a list of people who were either authorized to work or had appointments with county employees who were working. One person who arrived about 10 minutes in advance of his appointment time was asked to leave the building and return at his scheduled time.
The halls, which normally bustle with people visiting county offices, including the Department of Motor Vehicles, were empty.
In the chambers of the Legislature, only four legislators were physically present. A large video screen set up at one of the table where lawmakers normally sit enabled other members of the body to attend remotely.
Even with the extra space at the table created by the absent legislators, those in attendance pulled their chairs into the corners of the room to ensure they remained at least 6 feet from their colleagues and the county employees who attended the meeting.
When Kissane entered the room, the first thing she did was wipe down her chair and the conference table in front of her with sanitizing wipes.
While the legislators dealt with several routine issues during committee sessions prior to the regularly scheduled meeting, much of the conversation centered around the COVID-19 outbreak and the ways in which the county was dealing with the situation.
Legislature Chairman Don Dabiew, D-Bombay, noted that the county could be in for a difficult time as revenues from sales and occupancy taxes will undoubtedly decline as businesses close or reduce their hours and many people venture out of their homes only when necessary. The county will also not receive money from its casino compact with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, as the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort was shuttered earlier this week, he said.
“It’s going to cripple us down the road,” Dabiew said.
Sales tax revenues may show a bump in the early part of the month, with some businesses reporting a three-fold increase in sales as many people stocked up on supplies and food, but unless the situation changes soon, that boost will be wiped out, he noted.
Legislators traditionally begin their formal session with the Pledge of Allegiance, but the attendance by several members via videoconferencing caused a small hiccup. Lawmakers hold their work sessions in a room across the suite from their formal chambers and opted to remain in the smaller room rather than have to move the video setup. However, there was no American flag in the work room, so legislators cast about for a moment before deciding to face the flag on an outdoor flagpole visible through the window to say the pledge.
During that formal session, the Legislature agreed to table any county hiring until the current emergency had passed.
“We need to not fill any positions right now,” Dabiew said.
Legislators also voted to allow Perry to create new budget lines that will account for all emergency purchases related to the virus. The lines will make it much easier for the county to claim reimbursement for virus-related purchases and it will give county leaders greater control over those purchases, Perry said, as all must be approved by Kissane or her designated representative.