City of Salamanca holding together during COVID-19 shutdown

The popular Highland Avenue Playground is closed and surrounded by caution tape Monday, as are all the playgrounds in Salamanca during the citywide shutdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

SALAMANCA — One week after the Salamanca Municipal Building closed its doors to the public and went to minimal in-office staff, Mayor Michael Smith says the city is still in good shape.

With the first several confirmed cases in the county coming over the weekend, Smith said Monday that there has been some fear in the workplace, but the city’s staff are “holding together.”

“Our health and safety crews, the police and fire, are doing well. They’re following all protocols,” he said. “It wasn’t unexpected, as it gets a little closer.”

While many office staff from city hall are working from home, the mayor said the public works and public utilities crews are beginning to look more closely at what work out in the field and what employees are essential.

“The Governor (Andrew Cuomo) has determined what is essential. That’s not our call at this level,” Smith said. “We’ve reinforced to all of our workers that if you feel you’ve been exposed, call your healthcare provider and follow all the protocols.”

However, Smith said the city is also stressing to their essential employees in public safety that being quarantine does not mean they can go out and have a mini-vacation.

“If you’re too scared to go to work because you might be infected by one of the same four people you’ve worked with for the last number of years, I better not see you at Walmart, or the grocery store, or the liquor store or the gas station,” he added.

Meanwhile, Smith said sanitations for the police and fire departments are going on “day and night.” A crew is coming in to do an electrostatic cleaning of the police and fire vehicles this week, which would keep them sanitized for three months. He said if there is any spray left over, they would do the DPW and BPU vehicles, too.

“A lot of the people may say, ‘I don’t want to work. I’m scared. Why don’t you lay me off?’” the mayor explained. “You have essential jobs to do. We have made accommodations.”

Among those essential jobs is DPW crews cleaning sod off the sidewalks and streets. Smith with a large population of walkers in Salamanca, fixing ruts from the snowplow or sidewalk plow is essential.

“And if we don’t fix them now, when this ends come summer when we could be patching holes in our roads, we’re going to be shoveling sod,” he said. “And if we lay them all off and there’s an emergency, like a tree falls across the road, we can’t call them back.”

Smith commended Fire Chief Nick Bocharski for his leadership during the past week, saying he’s been the voice of reason in preaching “stay calm.” “We’ve got this, we’ve been planning on this, so unless the illness hits the fan, we’re in pretty good shape,” he added.

The mayor asks all the area residents to use common sense during the shutdown as well, stressing the importance of social distancing, especially with kids home from school and the weather getting warmer. He said he drove by the always-busy Highland Avenue playground Sunday and it was empty.

“We put caution tape around the playgrounds, but still,” Smith said. “I read that the virus lives on stainless plastic for three or four days.”

The mayor said he’s been practicing social distancing as well, only going from home to city hall and back again and occasionally stopping by the drive-through for lunch in between.

With the city’s finances in good shape for the next few months thanks to a recent loan from New York state, Smith said they still plan on holding their usual summer and fall activities without having to worry about upcoming bills breaking the bank.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but hallelujah, the city’s got money,” he added. “I count my blessings there.”

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)