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Smithtown becomes last Suffolk town to declare state of emergency

Smithtown declared a state of emergency Wednesday.

Smithtown declared a state of emergency Wednesday. Credit: Raychel Brightman

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Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, making it the last Suffolk County town to do so.

A spokeswoman said Wehrheim signed the order Wednesday afternoon to bypass civil service regulations and comply with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s order that local governments reduce their overall workforce by at least 50% and allow nonessential employees to work from home.

Those reductions will be put in place by Monday, spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. 

Garguilo had said Tuesday that some town parks, playgrounds and bathrooms could be locked if officials decided with limited staffing that they could not do the maintenance needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus at those places. Closures were still possible, she said on Wednesday, but officials hoped to keep at least some parks open.

“We don’t want to have this go on any longer than a few weeks,” she said. “If that means we lock the doors to certain parks, temporarily, then we’ll take those steps.”

Garguilo said such closures, if they are put in place, would likely be the first in Smithtown in at least 30 years. 

Town and union leadership met Tuesday to discuss implementing Cuomo’s order. Department heads were formulating plans Wednesday to temporarily reduce the town workforce. The likeliest plan is to divide workers into two teams and rotate weekly, she said, giving workers at home time to recognize and report symptoms of sickness before they return to town work sites. No town workers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, she said. 

The order does not apply to the public safety department, and officials intend to keep as many highway and parks, buildings and grounds workers on the job as possible.

Garguilo, whose aunt and uncle run a St. James bakery that bears the family name, said they and other small business owners in the town worried about the toll the coronavirus would take on their livelihoods.

Some, remembering superstorm Sandy, are skeptical of government’s ability or willingness to help them, she said.

“There are businesses that were supposed to be reimbursed and were denied claims” for assistance, she said. “Insurance is not going to cover this.”

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