MALONE — Franklin County officials had planned to spend more than $470,000 in the coming year to attract potential visitors, and it recently turned over the management of its tourism promotion efforts to the Franklin County Local Development Corp. in hopes of bolstering tourist visits.
But as the COVID-19 coronavirus infection spreads, and the first case of the disease has been confirmed in the county, local leaders have a new message for potential visitors — stay away.
The message, issued by the county Board of Legislators on Wednesday, is an effort to “proactively reduce further exposure as it impacts our limited resources.”
“To date we have seen an alarming influx of travelers from outside the County who are staying at second-homes and short-term rentals, like Airbene and Vrbo. While you may be seeking refuge from a larger amount of cases downstate, you must be aware that this is a global pandemic,” legislators said in a statement.
“You and your families have a critical role to fulfill in halting the rapid spread of this virus, which can be dangerous and even fatal to the elderly and people with underlying health conditions,” the statement said.
The county has only one confirmed case of the disease so far, but the “number of exposures will increase with the movement of non-residents into our area from other parts of the state and country, which will result in an inordinate strain upon the resources of public health, first responders, health care providers, our hospitals and other government personnel,” the statement said.
“Additional needs presented with the increased presence of out-of-county persons at our hospitals will tax our medical care system beyond its capacity.”
The statement also noted that most small businesses in the county are closed and that, while grocery stores remain open, they are experiencing shortages.
“We are asking that you respect the integrity of our hospitals and infrastructure and not travel to Franklin County from any area at this time. It is far better for you to stay home and limit your movements,” the statement reads.
The county also asked the owners of short-term rental units to pull advertising from online services such as Airbnb and Vrbo and to not rent out their properties.
The county’s statement is similar to one issued by Essex County on Tuesday.
County Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, has said that if visitors feel they must come to Franklin County, they should self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Maroun is also the mayor of the village of Tupper Lake.
His counterpart in Saranac Lake, Mayor Clyde Rabideau, took a somewhat different position, saying he believed people who own second homes in the area — and pay taxes on them — should be allowed to come to their home in the area.
Local Development Corp. CEO Jeremy Evans said he recognizes the county’s need to follow the recommendations of public health officials, who are recommending limiting travel as much as possible. It’s not that the county doesn’t want visitors, Evans said, but given the current situation, it is only to defer to health officials, he said.
The Legislature is “paying attention to the care realities in our county,” he said, adding that “public health is job one.
As the pandemic subsides, officials can turn their attention to how they can handle the economic crisis the virus and the efforts to fight it are creating, Evans said.
With revenues from the county’s occupancy tax – which provides much of the funding for the tourism promotion program – expected to decrease dramatically, the LDC will “adjust its thinking” on how to move forward, he said.
The contract between the county and the LDC calls for a minimum allocation for tourism promotion of roughly $473,000. Evans said he is currently preparing a budget for the tourism campaign with that as a base figure and that the corporation and the county have not talked about revising the contract amount downward, as county officials are “focused on the immediate task at hand,” he said.
The LDC is scheduled to meet via video conference on Friday, he said, with the subject of that meeting expected to be how the organization can assist local businesses impacted by the outbreak and the closures ordered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The Adirondack Daily Enterprise contributed to this report.