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Government services go on despite pandemic

Rochester's state of emergency closed city hall to outside visitors until further notice.
James Brown
Rochester's state of emergency closed city hall to outside visitors until further notice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed that all local government workforces be reduced by 50 percent at any one time in an effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

With that, local leaders are figuring out how to continue serving residents with far fewer people in their offices.

In Irondequoit, Supervisor Dave Seeley said the pandemic has put one question on his mind for weeks: “What do we need to be able to really perform the government’s most core responsibilities, and that’s preserving the health and welfare and safety of our constituents?” 

He said that public safety comes first, and in this case, it means scaling back all town operations “well below” Cuomo’s requirements -- except for its police department. 

Seeley said they’ve been implementing these measures for weeks. Nonessential staff have been told not to report, and Seeley has ordered that the town's department of public works employees be split into multiple buildings.

The town has also limited what that department will respond to. 

“Needing to remove limbs from the roadways,” said Seeley. “Fallen limbs, those sort of things, sewer backups at homes, those are deemed essential. Those that really involve public health, public safety, Other components of our department of public works we can live without for the time being.” 

Rochester City Hall spokesperson Justin Roj said the city is following the governor’s decision while trying to keep business as usual as possible in unusual times.

“It’s certainly quieter,” said Roj. “But I would say that quiet is hope at this point where we want to make sure that people maintain a distance from each other because that is our best weapon against the virus.”

Roj said most city services are available online or through the mail or drop boxes accessible around City Hall and other locations. He also most nonessential staffers have switched to teleconferencing and working from home, and those who are in offices are practicing social distancing. 

He said residents can expect an update on the city’s efforts from Mayor Lovely Warren on Wednesday.

In Sodus Point, where there are seven village employees, Mayor Dave McDowell said they have to keep fully operating despite the risks of spreading the coronavirus. 

“It's a very difficult decision,” said McDowell. “And if we had employees that traveled more broadly, probably we’d make a different decision.” 

Since Wayne County does not yet have a case of the coronavirus, McDowell said the risk is low but he acknowledged that may not last long. 

He said operations in the lakeside village get more difficult as Lake Ontario floods, and that's expected to happen again this spring.

Additionally, the state requires daily wastewater and water supply testing, and they’ll need every employee they have to keep that up. 

“Our employees don’t wander far from their homes and their places of employment,” said McDowell. “We’re going to try to get as much work done as we can.”

McDowell said employees are practicing social distancing among themselves and with residents. And they’ve prohibited visits from salespeople or residents to any town facility other than the village hall. 

“Wayne County is not like Monroe County,” McDowell said. “Sodus Point is not like Rochester or Pittsford, or Brighton or Greece. So I think we would make very different decisions if we were any of those communities.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.