SALISBURY – A discussion on the impacts of the pandemic on county operations and small businesses highlighted a meeting of the Wicomico County Council this week.
On Tuesday, Wicomico County Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg and Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Chambers presented the Wicomico County Council with an update on county and local business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Needless to say, we are in the midst of a historic crisis for businesses,” Chambers said. “This is impacting every business on the Eastern Shore.”
During his presentation to the council this week, Chambers said the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce has worked closely with the Greater Salisbury Committee and Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development in recent weeks to field questions and direct businesses to the appropriate resources during the pandemic, which has altered or shut down many business operations.
He said efforts included hosting webinars and educational series on relief packages and loan programs. He added the chamber is also working with federal partners to get payments into the accounts of small businesses and organizations within three weeks.
“The feedback we are getting from businesses on the shore is the ones that can hold out can really only hold out until the end of April,” he said. “They need this money now.”
At the state level, he said the next step is to recommend exemptions on state sales tax payments, the use of rainy day funds and the consideration of tax credits for remote workers. At the federal level, Chambers said his organization has highlighted a need for stimulus packages and federal income tax exemptions through 2020.
“That puts an average of 15% more in every employee’s paycheck …,” he said. “Those additional dollars in employed workers’ paychecks will make a difference.”
Chambers told the council now was the time for leaders to step forward and help local businesses and organizations.
“Amidst the doom and gloom and the economic disaster, this is an opportunity for all of our elected leaders, and leaders in the community, to step up and leave a mark that makes such a difference in the community,” he said.
Councilman John Cannon agreed. He noted that the council was eager to throw its support behind the chamber’s efforts.
“This is without a doubt the highest priority for the council,” he said.
The council on Tuesday also received a report on county operations during the pandemic.
Strausburg said several county departments had authorized teleworking, while others continue normal operations.
The Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, the visitor’s center and county parks remain closed to the public, and visitation at the detention center and Wicomico Nursing Home has been suspended.
“The health department assessed every patient in the nursing home last Wednesday to determine whether or not we had any individuals there that might be in need of COVID testing,” Strausburg said. “Fortunately, we did not identify anybody who met the criteria for testing. That was a big relief to us.”
Strausburg said one of the biggest challenges thus far was finding personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as masks and gloves – for the department of corrections, the sheriff’s department, and fire and EMS departments.
“Supplies are limited all across the country,” he said.
Strausburg noted, however, the county could have an opportunity to work with a linen company to supply the departments with PPE. He said the county is also considering a decontamination tent for police cruisers, ambulances and any vehicle that has carried either a COVID-positive patient or a suspected person.
“We are looking at the cost associated with that and how we get that up and running as quickly as we can,” he said. “Our plan would be to set that up at PRMC. The cost associated with it would be reimbursed by the federal government, but of course we would have to forward fund those costs.”
Cannon asked Strausburg this week if the pandemic had altered the county’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
“I’m assuming we’re anticipating there could be some rethinking as far as the capital improvement plan and the budget as a whole is concerned,” he said.
Strausburg told the council the administration would review the proposed budget as the economic situation evolves.
“Under the current circumstances, with the negative impacts on the economy and the negative impacts on state finances – which will eventually trickle down to counties and municipalities – we will be in a different mode this year with regard to the budget,” he said. “It will be much more fluid this year, I believe, than it had been in past years. We are going to particularly take a look at new capital spending. We don’t want to suspend or interrupt any significant projects that are underway.”