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The Washington County Board of Supervisors

By PJ Ferguson

Washington County officials are clouded by financial uncertainties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic with County Administrator Chris Debolt revealing that the Governor’s orders regarding non-essential businesses and workers is likely to be extended through Memorial Day.

Debolt spoke to the county board of supervisors during an emergency meeting held via teleconference on Wednesday morning.

While businesses are being crippled by the forced closures and reductions in staff, the consequences are set to trickle down to the county.

“We do have a pretty significant amount of financial uncertainty going forward,” said Debolt, whose economic models are currently forecasting anywhere from a $680,000 to a $1.8 million loss in sales tax revenue for the county.

The exact number is a question mark for now.

“The estimates of a million dollars in shortfall isn’t even close, I think it is going to be higher than that,” said Jackson town supervisor Jay Skellie.

In response, the county is delaying and avoiding purchases where possible.

Debolt and his staff are also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on reimbursement requests for known costs that have been accrued because of legislative measures taken to respond to the virus.

Some costs are still unknown in the long term, including “hazard pay” or time-and-a-half compensation for essential employees who are still required to work.

Hartford supervisor Dana Haff, a critic of the county’s approval of providing hazard pay to its employees for “working their normal working time,” called for the county to declare Department of Public Works employees as essential so they could return to work immediately, though without the benefit of hazard pay.

“Maintaining our highways is in the interest of public safety,” said Haff, “the weather right now is conducive to construction.”

While some supervisors agreed with Haff’s desire to get highway employees back to work, most disagreed with the timeline.

“By May 1 I would probably agree with Dana,” said Hebron town supervisor Brian Campbell. “It might be a little early right now. We got to get by the peak of this first.”

Whitehall town supervisor John Rozell echoed Campbell’s sentiments.

“Let’s give it a couple more weeks before sending the highway workers back,” said Rozell, “I think we have a lot more in front of us.”

County treasurer Al Nolette also revealed that the county’s investment interest rate has dropped down to one percent.

Nolette also floated the idea of waiving the county’s one percent tax delinquency interest rate for this tax season, not as a proponent but as a measure that other counties were looking at.

A vast majority of the supervisors opposed this idea.

“Three-fourths of the people already paid their taxes before this crisis hit,” said Campbell, with other supervisors stating similar concerns. “If we do this for everyone who waited until the last minute to pay their taxes, it’s not going to appear to be fair.

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