With counties across New York asking in unity for federal disaster relief
funding in order to pay for the ongoing response to COVID-19, Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone expressed that 19 bus routes across the county will be nixed.
“As we put forward this budget, there is not going to be a part of this budget
that involves discretionary spending that will not be impacted as a result of Washington’s failure to act here,” Bellone said at a press conference alongside officials from Suffolk Transit Service on Friday. “We are going to see impacts on public health. We are going to see impacts on public transportation.”
The previous Tuesday, Sept. 22, was Long Island Car-Free Day as well.
“I have taken Suffolk Transit to come to work on Car-Free Day to highlight
the importance of public transportation to our economy, to the people of Suffolk County,” he said. “When you want to think about the importance of that, think about what we have had to go through during COVID-19: drivers who were driving these buses throughout the pandemic when they didn’t know, we didn’t know, the science wasn’t even there about what the potential impacts were going to be. These are people who took risks to keep the essential parts of our economy going.”
Bellone pointed out that essential workers frequently rely on the county
bus system. With 19 routes being cut, that could mean the loss of a job or one’s
lack of ability to reach the grocery store in a reasonable amount of time.
“These cuts would go into effect in the budget that we will be putting forward
midway through the budget year. On an annualized basis, these cuts would
produce about $18 million in savings,” Bellone said, implying an at least multiyear cut of this regard. John Corrado, president of Suffolk Transit, said Suffolk County needs a transit system.
“We didn’t lose the percentages that our neighboring counties and the city
lost. We lost about 40 percent of our riders during the pandemic,” Corrado said. “But [riders are] coming back now, and people need our system.
“We move about 5 million people, trips, per year. And these cuts would be devastating, but also devastating to the folks who are trying to use our road systems. Can you imagine putting those trips back onto the roads in cars and what have you?” he added.
The executive’s office collaborates with other county executives around the state on a regular basis, especially during the pandemic. Orange and Onondaga counties tuned in to a Zoom conference with Bellone earlier in the day on Friday. Bellone, Orange County’s executive Steve Neuhaus and Onondaga County’s executive Ryan McMahon, were ultimately unified in their stance on the necessity of federal disaster relief.
“One thing that we have communicated consistently over these months is
the need for the federal government to provide disaster assistance directly for
states and local governments to help us battle the pandemic and to ultimately
be able to recover from it,” Bellone said. “The counties literally are the governments that are on the front lines of this. We are the governments that are doing public safety and public health.”
McMahon shares Bellone’s financial concerns. Although he reports his
upstate county’s positivity rates never reached the peaks of Suffolk County or
Orange County, he said the burden was absolutely evident.
“What the federal government is potentially doing is creating one of the largest unfunded mandates that we have ever seen. If we were making the decisions on shutting down, reopening, restarting, we would need to live with those decisions,” McMahon said.
He expressed that Suffolk County’s accomplishment in flattening the curve
was “remarkable.” In Orange County, the brunt was felt a bit more than his upstate colleague.
“We were providing our nursing homes — not the county ones, the private
ones — with 75 percent of their personal protective equipment. We were even providing hospitals with N95 masks, gowns. You name it. We were buying coffins,” Neuhaus said. “We were buying ventilators. We have had to buy body bags because the ones that they provided were not quality. The most incredible things that the general public probably doesn’t realize that were on the desk of the county executives in order to get through this is really astounding.”
The three county executives met via Zoom publicly in July as well, calling on
the federal government regarding the same issue.