Corona comes calling

With the Coronavirus finally and perhaps inevitably reaching our shores – an unidentified 35-year-old man returning from France to his home in the town of Rochester was diagnosed over the weekend and placed on home quarantine – more mundane subjects like tax policy and politics seem, well, mundane.

I, for one, am confident that our public health officials are on top of this dynamic situation, one fraught with worry, anxiety and no small amount of fear.

A week ago, county executive Pat Ryan was telling the public his administration had been on this back in January, around the time early reports of the virus were coming out of China. I wondered about that. If there had been that level of (local) response two months ago, they would have held a press conference. Claims of early warning have recently been walked back to “a few weeks ago,” which sounds more like it.

There had been concerns among some local officials about county preparedness, or at the least, communication between governmental levels on county plans. In response, Ryan held a high-level meeting with officials and his public health team last week where about 100 people wedged into a jammed meeting room. One sneeze would have cleared the hall.

Obviously, there’s a learning curve here. Ryan’s weekend update for media to announce the first case was staged in the near-empty lobby of the county office building on a Sunday morning.

Some officials acted independently with common sense. In Ulster town court, for instance, a tape was placed on the floor exactly six feet in front of the sitting judge’s nose. Town hall surfaces are cleaner than ever.

Talk of postponing Kingston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, set for next Sunday, has surfaced. High school post-season playoff basketball games may play to empty gyms. People shrink from handshakes. I don’t even hug my grandchildren.

We will survive, but I hope the media acts responsibly in reporting the progress of this disease and the measures being taken to deal with it. And for once, can we please leave politics out of it and work together?

PASSING THE BUCK– The Ryan administration will be asking the county legislature to double the county’s 2 percent lodging tax when it meets in regular session on Tuesday. The additional two million or so in anticipated revenue is supposedly being divided between towns, villages and the city, and county tourism.

Correction: Let’s call this a two-for: A correction and an omission.

The Ryan administration is not sponsoring an increase in the bed tax, as I previously reported. It’s the Ways and Means Committee of the county legislature, chaired by Lynn Archer, D-Accord.  A spokesman for the administration said Ryan will consider legislation if and when it reaches his desk.  My apologies, particularly to Archer, who has put a great deal of time, effort and research into this subject.

The county tourism industry apparently finds it something of a paradox for the county to be raising taxes on their businesses, thereby making them less competitive with adjoining counties, while at the same time claiming it will promote tourism. “Come to Ulster County. We just raised the bed tax.”

Cash-strapped towns will gleefully accept any cash infusions, of course, but they’d rather get a bigger slice of the county sales tax, a much more dependable, and growing, source of revenue.

There’s also the concern, though not yet suspicion, that the big-spending Ryan administration – which  increased the county budget by $12 million this year, unanimously approved by a too compliant  legislature- may, in the face of a flat economy, be projecting the need  for fresh new cash to keep all those new programs going next year.

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