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County budgets low on gas

Gas pump. (iStock)

Gas pump. (iStock) Credit: iStock/iStock

Daily Point

Battered oil price gases county budgets

Suffolk and Nassau counties are going to run into brutal economic challenges as every temporarily shuttered business represents a loss of sales tax revenue, and every full grocery cart represents the sale of products that mostly are necessities and are not taxed. Each county relies on sales tax for just over $1 billion a year, about 30 percent of their budgets, so a big drop out of that bucket is hugely consequential.

And low gas prices make the problem far worse.

Each county charges sales tax of 4.25% on gas. During periods of normal purchasing, every dime-per-gallon reduction in gas prices costs each county (very) roughly $2 million a year. 

Gas prices, averaging $2.63 a gallon a year ago, are hovering just above $2 a gallon at many stations, implying loss of at least $12 million a year for each county.

That will be exacerbated by a huge reduction in gallons sold as many adhere to the stay-home guidelines.

Gas prices were still at $2.65 per gallon in mid-January and Suffolk County pulled in $4,923,974 in gas taxes that month. In February, as prices began to decline on plummeting oil costs, the take was $4,104,766, $400,000 less than February 2019 and $1.1 million less than February 2018.

And for  March, officials with both counties say, the numbers will be much, much worse.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

A worrisome statistic

The New York State Health Department offers data regarding coronavirus fatalities in nearly every category: By age, by gender, by county, and even by comorbidities. 

What’s missing, however, might be one of the most important data categories we’ll need to assess the impact of the coronavirus pandemic: race and ethnicity.

As it turns out, Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said Tuesday that hospitals don’t report race and ethnicity information on coronavirus cases or fatalities to the state. Instead, the state has to gather that data from the coroners’ offices.

DeRosa promised during Tuesday’s coronavirus news conference that the state would have that information “this week.”

Other states that have reported coronavirus information by race are seeing a significant disparity. In Louisiana, for example, black residents make up 70 percent of those who have died from the coronavirus, even though only a third of the state’s residents are black.

While New York doesn’t have that information yet, the breakdowns it does have from the state Health Department is worth careful study, particularly on the deaths that have occurred. As of the state update on Monday, while more than 60% of fatalities were New Yorkers above age 70, about 17% of them were below age 60. So far, 86% of New York deaths have had at least one comorbidity, i.e. hypertension, diabetes or others. 

Also interesting: There’s a significant gender disparity, as only 38% of the fatalities were women.  

The socioeconomic data, however, might produce the most interesting, and troubling results — when it emerges.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Not a team player

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Final Point

I believe the children are our future

Like many elected officials, Josh Lafazan and his office are being inundated with phone calls and emails. And the only topic on anyone’s mind is the coronavirus.

Lafazan, a Nassau County legislator from Syosset, said the contacts fall into three buckets — seniors who cannot, or are afraid to, leave their homes to get food and medicine; parents of health care workers seeking more personal protective equipment for their children; and residents upset about witnessing violations of social distancing, such as groups gathering in public places and kids playing together.

Lafazan, 26, held a supply drive on Saturday at the Syosset library and collected shoe covers, gowns, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, 3D-printed face shields, several hundred respirators from Home Depot, and 500 N-95 masks from the general contractor and maintenance service provider East End Group, all of which was given to Nassau County’s Office of Emergency Management for dissemination.

But the biggest initiative he’s launched is a program that pairs young volunteers with seniors in a no-contact shopping operation. The senior calls the volunteer with a shopping list, the volunteer purchases the goods and calls the senior with the cost. The senior leaves a check in the mailbox for the volunteer, who leaves the groceries or medications at the front door. It’s a substitute for not-so-Instacart, with a personal touch.

Lafazan, who runs a huge internship program during the best of times, has paired 60 volunteers with seniors, including 20 on Monday morning alone.

Lafazan said his inspiration came from a video montage he and his cousins made for their grandparents in Roslyn, whom he and his cousins haven’t seen for a month for fear of infecting them. 

“I was moved by how appreciative they were,” Lafazan said in an email to The Point. “It got me thinking about, aside from the logistical need to get seniors the food and medicine they need, the level of impact we could make in showing these seniors that they were still cared for, even when they were alone. And I will tell you, from hearing from our recruits, that it’s meant just as much if not more to the volunteers to be able to give back ... What’s been so special is that a ton of the volunteer shoppers are students home from college, who reached out to our office as they were trying to turn a frustrating semester into making a difference.”

As for his regular intern program, it has grown from 10 students during his Syosset school board reelection campaign in 2015 to 70 in 2018 in an off-year to 125 for last year’s legislative reelection campaign. This summer’s program is scheduled to begin at the end of June, but Lafazan said he has contingency plans to push back the start if the coronavirus still is limiting personal contact.

He said he’s received more than 160 applications, a number he said also is related to the virus.

“Our application numbers have soared actually because many parents have expressed their unwillingness to send kids to camps and programs outside the state, and would rather their kids stay local,” Lafazan said.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie