Windsor-Orange 2 COVID-19 update (3/23/20)
Thank you for the great ideas that you shared on the philanthropic front. They were very helpful as I've already passed these along to a couple of constituents I spoke with over the weekend. Let me know if you have others.
Things I learned today (and yesterday) that might be of interest to you:
First, some very important news out of the VT Department of Taxes. For our local restaurants and hotels that are hurting, the state has deferred the collection (no interest or penalties) of rooms & meals taxes for businesses that cannot make payment at this time. Importantly for municipal governments, the filing deadline for the VT Homestead Declaration and Property Tax Credit Claims forms have been extended to July 15th. This could have an effect on municipal budgeting. You can find more information about these other tax announcements at this VT Dept of Taxes page.
Second, connectivity whether by telephone or internet is absolutely critical to conducting life, business, education, and health care during this pandemic. Locally, I've been in touch with the outstanding gang at ECFiber. In addition to eliminating disconnections for non-payment of service while this crisis persists, they are trying to role out a program to get free/reduced lunch student households free hookups to internet service. (Ironically, they are constrained by technician availability because of childcare limitations.) Other telecom/internet service providers have also stepped up by helping customers who are newly financially constrained and who are trying to launch remote learning in their homes. If you hear of people having difficulty paying bills or getting access, you might direct them to this Department of Public Service page to programs offered by Verizon, Consolidated, AT&T, etc. But, of course, ECFiber would be my first choice!
Third, Erica Bornemann, Director of VT Emergency Management, did a conference call with some legislators this weekend. She and the team at the State Emergency Operations Center are fully focused on planning for the medical surge that will likely hit in the coming weeks, including directing staff, equipment, and supplies to where they will be most needed, working through state/federal mutual aid agreements, and continuing protective/mitigation measures to stifle community spread. The VT National Guard has been activated and is working with VT Emergency Management on medical surge planning and medical supply logistics. Emergency Management is directly involved in the "essential personnel" definition about which I've gotten a ton of questions as it affects a parent's ability to get child care. Here is a link to the current definition, which will evolve and become even more important as it could affect who is required to shelter-in-place, if/when that order comes.
Fourth, the governor's recent orders that "close contact" businesses close in-person operations by this evening and that, to the maximum extent possible, places of work move to a work-from-home model, is very likely a precursor to a full on stay-at-home directive. Today's VT Department of Health update has more information.
Fifth, while I don't have written material to share with you yet, the VT House is working with the VT Senate to finalize a piece of legislation we hope to have on the governor's desk by Wednesday or Thursday this week. Of most interest for those of you in municipal government will be: a change to the Open Meeting Law to allow for a telephonic meeting without a physical location during the declared emergency (still need to comply with all meeting warning requirements in current law) and an allowance of 10 days to post meeting minutes; an allowance for the Secretary of State, working with the governor, to establish a system for a mail-in ballot election process across the state; an allowance for towns to go to an Australian ballot referendum solely with select board approval, as opposed to requiring town meeting approval; deadlines/requirements for license issuances and plan adoption (including Town Plans) will be pushed to 90 days after the emergency declaration has been lifted. This legislation will also include changes to state unemployment insurance statutes and an easing of licensing requirements to bring out-of-state and retired health care workers into VT's health care system. Stay tuned. I'm hopeful we will pass this by unanimous consent by Wednesday, but there are plenty of kinks to work out to get 180 legislators to fall in line.
Finally, and on a personal note, thank you for the weight you are all bearing. With the announcement of the additional COVID-19 deaths today and the quickly growing number of confirmed cases, this is going to get harder in the coming days. Combining this medical crisis with the extraordinary economic and psychological burden before us makes me so appreciative of the resilience we have in our communities and what you are doing to keep us upright. Please let me know how I can help.
Enjoy the snow,