There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has caused turmoil across the globe—local villages right here on Long Island aren’t immune. Local governments have had to pivot and make some adjustments to their budgets and even how they operate village hall. But with vaccines coming out to snuff out COVID-19, people are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that will end this deadly pandemic. Recently, Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss answered some questions about how COVID-19 affected Mineola, the village’s infrastructure projects and what residents can expect to see in 2021.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected the village in terms of village hall operations? Has or will COVID-19 affect taxes within the village if costs were allocated to combat the pandemic?
A: COVID-19 has had a significant effect on how our village operates, but not on the services we provide. Like all government entities, we have had to rethink how we deliver those services, but at no time were we forced eliminate services entirely. For example, during the NY Pause period, we continued to provide services such as permitting construction projects, although there was a time when we had to limit on-site inspections. Similarly, our Sanitation Department had to adjust collection days and frequency to accommodate state-mandated staffing reductions, but at no time did we have to suspend garbage collections. We also used existing technologies to replace in-person services by conducting administrative services through email, phone, fax and text messaging whenever possible. Whatever we could do to keep government fully operational and responsive to our taxpayers, all of whom are also being deeply impacted by COVID-19. I’m also proud to note that we were one of the few municipalities that never shut down or suspended our normal operations during and since NY Pause.
We are certainly facing fiscal challenges due to unanticipated COVID-19 expenses, coupled with a serious loss in non-tax revenues directly attributable to COVID-19. However, Mineola is in a better position to meet these challenges than most municipalities because of our standing tight fiscal policies and responsible budgeting. Our greatest challenge will be that, when you are normally running lean and watching every penny, it’s hard to make additional cuts without limiting services. Our goal at this point is to continue our prudent fiscal practices, and anticipate to the greatest extent what our budget needs will be in the next one to two years.
Q: Can you speak about the infrastructure within the village and its progress? Has COVID-19 affected any of those projects such as the third track project, Village Green, firehouse headquarters, downtown sewer project, etc.?
A: Nobody could have foreseen COVID-19 or the impact it would have on ongoing infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects such as our well and sewer projects tend to be multi-year projects and were well underway when COVID-19 first hit. These projects could not be suspended without greatly affecting costs and, in some instances, even jeopardizing projects. While we had to adjust time frames and construction, we were able to keep our infrastructure projects moving forward without any catastrophic setbacks.
The LIRR third track project is still moving forward on its schedule. The same with the Village Green project. The fire department headquarters project is still in its infancy, but progressing as planned. Our sewer projects are on schedule and we will be completing them as projected. Our water wells are proceeding as planned, and we are on track to meet New York State’s new water standards by the state’s deferral deadline. Again, Mineola is ahead of most villages and water districts in meeting those requirements in large part because we got an early start in addressing the new water standards.
Q: What can village residents expect from the village in 2021? Is there anything that residents can look forward to seeing from the village?
A: It’s hard to guess what residents may expect from the village in 2021 because that will still be largely dependent on COVID-19 responses. Much of what we will do in 2021 will depend on how far along New York progresses in defeating COVID-19. The new vaccination plans are a great, positive step forward, but how fast that progresses will largely determine how soon we can get back to normal. One thing is certain, that our residents can look forward to knowing that our village will continue to serve them with the highest and most responsible regard to the needs of our families and community.
Q: Is there anything else you wanted to mention or let village residents know?
A: I would just add that the beginning of each year always coincides with the beginning of winter. We have already had our first major winter storm, which our village staff handled admirably. However, I must remind residents that they need to do their part to help us all get through winter storms. When it snows, take your cars off the street. This helps us plow roads and helps guarantee access to us all by emergency responders when needed. By each of us doing our part, we also wind up getting through a storm and returning to normal faster.