WATERTOWN — The chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, Scott A. Gray, is calling on leaders in Washington to come to a compromise on the next package of coronavirus aid legislation and include direct, unrestricted aid to state and county governments.
Speaker of the House Nancy P. Pelosi, D-Ca., Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark R. Meadows have been in talks for weeks regarding the next round of coronavirus aid legislation. Most reports say the two sides are deadlocked over what should be included in the package. Republicans are split on whether a new package should even be passed while Democrats are committed to including things like an extension of the $600 a week additional unemployment benefits, which expired at the end of July.
“Local governments are teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff as demands for services rise and economic activity is at a standstill,” Mr. Gray wrote in a prepared statement. “With COVID-19 cases rising around the nation and the economy struggling to get back on track, now is not the time to be cutting services, jobs or limiting the capacity of our frontline workers to keep the virus in check.”
On July 24, the state Association of Counties released a report which projects counties across the state and New York City will lose $4.9 billion in sales tax income in the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. The association’s report stated the issue can only be addressed with flexible federal support given directly to state, county and local governments.
The report also breaks down expected revenue losses by county, with mild and severe projections.
Jefferson County is projected to lose between $20,925,429 and $39,541,986 in revenue over the next two fiscal years, or between eight percent and 15 percent of its 2020 annual revenues.
The report says all counties in the state, including New York City, are facing a combined loss of $13.5 billion over the next two fiscal years.
Mr. Gray said these losses could take between three and five years for the county to recoup, as it relies on fund balances and other savings it has accrued to weather the storm.
“You don’t repair this sort of substantial loss overnight, you have to do it over a period of time,” Mr. Gray said in an interview Thursday. “We’re probably looking at three years now, and we could potentially go to a five year timeframe of recovery.”
Mr. Gray said local governments are being relied upon for so many services at this time, including contact tracing and testing for COVID-19, as well as social services. He said the combined loss of revenue and increased reliance on government services has created a “perfect fiscal storm” that local governments cannot work through without federal support.
“Without help from our federal partners in the form of direct aid to local governments, counties simply won’t be able to provide the essential services that are crucial to stopping the virus and opening our communities,” he said in his statement.