HUDSON — City departments will look into cutting 5% to 10% from their budgets in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Kamal Johnson said during his second Virtual Town Hall on Friday.
The city anticipates budget shortfalls in the near future, Johnson said.
“The governor’s office informed me that they are pushing the feds to provide funding for local governments on the county and city level,” Johnson said.
He also spoke with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who said a new $60 billion bill will add more money for businesses in smaller rural communities, working with credit unions and smaller, local banks.
In March, Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, helped initiate and launch two funds with Berkshire Taconic: the Columbia County COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and the Columbia County Business Continuity Fund.
Barrett said the Business Continuity Fund has raised $200,000 to give out in grants to local businesses, and will continue.
“I think that many of them will, in the end, find that the [Small Business Administration] is not the answer to their prayers,” Barrett said.
Her office has been taking phone calls from constituents and others throughout the Hudson Valley, and has worked with the Department of Labor to address the concerns.
“We really need to put pressure on federal representatives, our senators as well as our Congress members, about supporting our local governments and our school districts and our communities,” Barrett said.
Barrett said an additional $25 million has been put into food-bank funding, which will be available in the next few days.
“I think we can be really proud of our state,” Barrett said. “We really have been leaders. We’ve been hit the hardest of anywhere, but the work that we’re doing and the fact that people keep looking to us for our leadership is really important.”
The Hudson City School District last held in-person classes on March 17. Since then, the district has continued to provide meals to its students at various locations in the city and child care to essential workers.
“Our cafeteria staff have not skipped a beat,” Hudson City School District Superintendent of Schools Maria Suttmeier said. “They are preparing meals every single day, making sure our families have breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday, and also weekend meals.”
The district has provided over 25,000 meals during the crisis to students.
Johnson worked with the district to deliver Wi-Fi hotspots to families without internet connection so students could participate in distance learning. The district distributed a device to each high school student, and provided devices to some younger students. He empathized with the approximately 125 high school seniors, who are missing many milestones.
Suttmeier said the district has discussed alternatives to traditional graduation ceremonies.
“This community has come together and rallied like I have never seen before,” Suttmeier said.
While she hopes schools reopen as soon as possible, Suttmeier does not know how social-distancing procedures will affect transporting students, common areas and classrooms.
School districts throughout the state are facing massive cuts to state aid. Initially, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said 50% of funding would be cut, and then it changed to 20%, which Suttmeier said would be devastating.
The district’s budget that is under discussion for 2020-21 is $52.1 million, an increase of $2.3 million.
“We’re trying to wrap our heads around what classroom sizes would look like if there were reductions in staff and class sizes go up, yet we’re being asked to provide social distancing for students,” Suttmeier said.
Suttmeier has written letters to county and state representatives on behalf of students in Hudson, Columbia County and the state in a plea for funding.
“That’s going to mean a reduction in staff, larger class sizes, anything that’s not mandated we’re going to have to look at,” Suttmeier said.
This includes libraries, sports and other extracurricular activities and support services.
The Common Council met virtually April 21, which was livestreamed and broadcast via WGXC.
“As difficult as these times are, the city continues to operate effectively,” Common Council President Thomas DePietro said.
The Common Council discussed affordable housing at North 7th Street. The City will post a comprehensive guide to the project on Monday, as well as a place to go for constituents to ask questions and submit comments.
“It is the council’s job, most of all, to keep an eye on the bottom line during the crisis,” DePietro said.
Also discussed during the Virtual Town Hall was the Youth Center, which is providing food to over 600 people. Funding does not come from local tax dollars, but from food banks and donors like Friends of Hudson Youth.
The Tourism Board is working to develop the plans discussed at its meeting April 17 to provide funds to both short- and long-term projects.
The Hudson Police Department modified some of its procedures since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Chief L. Edward Moore said there has been no lapse in services.
“The epidemic has not reduced our police patrols, our response times, or impacted our public safety in terms of police enforcement,” Moore said.
While the department has not lost any manpower, a 12-hour schedule started back in March as a precaution to be able to cover shifts if officers became sick.
The department has experienced a 15% reduction in calls for service. Arrests are down more than 30%, but domestic disputes are up 10% over last year.
Hudson Housing Authority Chairman Randall Martin said Hudson’s public housing has no confirmed cases of the virus.
“Thankfully, a lot of community services, such as the Youth Center, have been involved in helping meet the needs of those who are unable to get out,” Martin said.
The Columbia County Department of Health issues daily updates on COVID-19 cases in the county, releasing a list of cases per municipality and in nursing homes each Friday.
Health Department Director Jack Mabb said Columbia County has 142 positive cases, with 20 in Hudson, and 1,049 residents have been tested.
A major outbreak at Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, with 30 positive cases, has left nine residents dead and 13 staff affected. The county provided test kits to the facility. Livingston Hills is the only other nursing home in the county to ask for kits.
Mabb said the state is starting to get a little looser with test kits, and has sent 200 to Columbia County in the past two weeks. They are focusing on medical personnel, first responders and those who are symptomatic.
“Through the generosity of a number of donors, we’ve ordered 2,000 test kits,” Mabb said.
The tests, manufactured in Italy, and are currently held up with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Mabb hopes to get them within the next week to start community testing.
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell said he is proud of the constituents who stepped up to donate money for test kits.
“The minute I have the test kits in my hands, we’re going to start testing,” Mabb said.
Mabb said the state Department of Health is picking the sites for community testing and not giving the counties notice. It may happen at a random time at a supermarket in Columbia County. There are only four antibody tests approved for use in the country, but more labs are trying to get theirs approved. When that happens, antibody testing will be more available.
The county received 21,500 masks from the state. Hudson, second in population to Kinderhook, received the second-most masks to be distributed to the public.
Murell said the county is creating a reopening committee.
“Our emergency management office is putting together what we’re calling a family assistance network,” Murell said. These include pulling together county health and mental-health services and non-profits.
Abby Hoover is a reporter for the Register-Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.