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COVID-19 prompts Buffalo, suburban towns to shut offices, reduce services

Just like schools, restaurants, movie theaters and religious institutions, municipal governments are taking drastic alternative measures to operate amid the novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected 11 people in Erie County so far.

The City of Buffalo is still open for business, but City Hall is not.

And lots of operations have changed. That's also true in towns like Amherst, Grand Island, Lancaster and Tonawanda as government officials try to balance the rights and needs of the public with the mandate to curb the spread of the virus.

Buffalo, Amherst and Grand Island each has had residents who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Buffalo Common Council District offices will remain accessible via phone and email, but Council committee meetings – held every other Tuesday – are canceled, said Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen. Council business meetings still will be held, but will no longer be open to the public. Instead, said Pridgen, the public can watch live on Spectrum cable's government access channel 1304 or through buffalony.gov. The meetings also can be accessed through Facebook live on the Council's Facebook page, Pridgen said.

People will be able to watch the public meetings, but they will not be able to speak, Pridgen said.

"We feel comfortable because in a typical Council meeting the public does not speak," he said.

Tuesday's public hearing on renaming the Delavan-Grider Community Center in honor of Mayor Byron W. Brown has been postponed.

City Court is closed until further notice. However, arraignments, warrant returns and other emergency matters will continue at the County Court building, Part 27, at 25 Delaware Ave., Brown announced.

Buffalo Traffic Court matters currently scheduled for trial or conference will be automatically adjourned to a later date and no additional fees or penalties will be assessed. Call 311 with any questions.

Water shut-offs have been suspended, as well as late fees or interest on accounts such as taxes, sewer, water, user fees, parking and traffic.

All 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. parking restrictions in the city will be lifted beginning Wednesday until further notice. However, the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. restrictions will remain in effect so emergency vehicles have access to the street.

The administration is complying with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's recommendation to local governments to reduce by 50% the number of government workers in city offices through March 31. "Nonessential employees will work from home on a rolling basis. Those employees will receive pay at their regular rate," Brown said.

City Clerk Tianna M. Marks said her office also is taking precautionary measures.

Marriage licenses will be provided by appointment only until further notice. Call 851-5444 to schedule an appointment. Marriage ceremonies conducted by Marks' office will be suspended until further notice.

Individuals are directed to buffalony.gov/cityclerk for requesting birth, death and marriage certificates via the internet and U.S. mail. For urgent requests, go to vitalchek.com, Marks said.

The City Clerk's Office will continue issuing burial permits, and funeral directors are to use the Electronic Death Registration System on the New York State Department of Health's website.

Buffalo's city-owned and operated senior centers – Richmond-Summer, Autumnwood and Broadway Market – will be closed, but seniors who normally receive meals at the locations will be able to receive a meal by calling 311, Brown said. And city-owned community centers – Tosh Collins, Lincoln, Machnica, Hennepin JFK and Schiller Park  – also will be closed, unless needed for emergency purposes. Centers inside buildings owned by the city but not operated by the city will be closed until further notice.

The city's indoor pools and ice rinks are closed, as are Cazenovia Marcy and Martin Luther King Jr. parks casinos.

Changes have been made in other Erie County municipalities due to COVID-19, including:

Amherst: The town canceled upcoming advisory board meetings, including the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, for at least the next 30 days, Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said. The next Town Board meeting, scheduled for March 25, will go on but without any audience, he said. Members of the public will be able to watch a livestream of the meeting.

Amherst has closed all town buildings except for Town Hall but is asking the public to call ahead before stopping by for any business.

Grand Island: The Town Board will meet without an audience but with the meeting livestreamed for the public. All public hearings and advisory board meetings are canceled until further notice. This includes a scheduled April 8 hearing at Grand Island High School on the massive Project Olive development that was expected to draw a crowd.

Also, town officials are asking people to put off visiting Town Hall for nonessential purposes.

The town closed its Golden Age Center and all recreational facilities, Supervisor John Whitney said.

Lancaster: Supervisor Ronald Ruffino said he did not plan on holding open meetings until further notice. However, he is looking into alternative solutions that would provide people with the capability to listen into and speak during Town Board meetings, he said. In addition, public hearings are canceled until further notice.

The town's website says Recreation Department programs that use Lancaster Central School District facilities have been canceled until further notice. The Youth Bureau has canceled programs and will follow the closing of the school district. Lancaster courts have closed, according to the directive of the state Office of Court Administration. And residents are asked to call Town Hall offices before coming into the buildings. If questions or concerns cannot be taken care of over the phone, then people can visit the offices if they are healthy.

Town of Tonawanda: The Town Board's next meeting on March 23 will have no audience but will be livestreamed. Officials on Monday also decided to close nonessential government offices, including the Town Clerk’s Office, Town Court, the Building Department and other operations, Supervisor Joseph Emminger said. Only skeleton crews for those offices will report to work, he said.

All town youth and recreation facilities, including the Aquatic Center and the Paddock Golf Dome, also are closed until further notice.

Ken-Ton Meals on Wheels will continue to prepare meals for home delivery.

Town employees who are directed to stay home will be paid during this period, Emminger said.

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