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City Council Talks Spending, Staffing During Outbreak

Should there be a spending freeze on each department in Jamestown city government during the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak?

That was one of the discussions had by the Jamestown City Council during its work session meeting Monday, which included questions on spending and staffing levels as government officials deal with the unprecedented situation.

Grant Olson, R-Ward 5, started the discussion by asking if there should be a spending freeze placed on departments during the pandemic. Kim Ecklund, R-At Large, said the city government still needs to run during the crisis and that department heads have been instructed to follow their spending carefully. She said limiting department spending also wouldn’t be a good idea because there are too many unknowns of what might happen during the days and weeks ahead.

Anthony Dolce, R-Ward 2 and council president, said city government, even before the coronavirus outbreak, was “cut down to its bare bones.” He agreed that government still needs to continue operating, especially public safety operations like police and fire. He added that city officials will have to reanalyze its finances when the pandemic is over.

Eddie Sundquist, Jamestown mayor, said one reason city officials declared a state of the emergency during the COVID-19 outbreak is because there might be reimbursement by the state and federal governments for additional spending during the crisis. He said city employees are continuing to be paid during Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate of 100% of nonessential workers not working from City Hall. He added that there have been cost-savings because there has been no overtime for most departments during the outbreak.

Jeff Lehman, city public works director, said there is a two-man “skeleton crew” working for the streets department and said the parks crew is in a similar situation.

“Everyone else has been sent home,” Lehman said.

Sundquist did say that employees who are not working from home are on-call and expected to be able to perform their job duties if it’s requested.

Lehman said the longer the coronavirus outbreak continues, the more of an impact it will have on the city’s summer construction schedule.

He said a list of projects is completed and it’s been prioritized.

Sundquist said city parks are open to the public and asked visitors to remember the social distancing rules that are in place. He said restrooms at the parks are closed, which is done during the winter months.

Tamu Graham-Reinhardt, D-At Large, asked about police and fire staffing levels during the pandemic.

Harry Snellings, Jamestown Police Department chief and city public safety director, said officers are still working and staffing levels have been fine. He discussed the announcement last week asking residents to still call when there is an emergency, but there will be a series of questions for callers as part of a new protocol to keep officers safe.

He added that officers are carrying gloves and masks, and have been adjusting to the new protocols.

“We’re still patrolling out there,” he said. “We’re going to be visible.”

Snellings said one change that has occurred during the pandemic he would like to see continue even after the outbreak is over is video arraignments. He said that has been working well and is safer for officers.

Sundquist thanked council members for answering questions from constituents during this unprecedented time.

He also thanked city workers for making the change “on a dime” from working at the Municipal Building to working at home.

He added that city residents can still call city departments during the shutdown, but cannot make in-person payments or apply for a marriage license.

Sundquist said city officials are still doing emergency housing inspections, and there has been no changes to the public safety work force during the outbreak.

For more information, visit jamestownny.net.

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