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Another City Embraces Holding Video Council Meetings

Niagara Falls, N.Y., Mayor Robert Restaino announced the closing of city hall and all other city buildings, noting that the Falls City Council meeting for March will be closed to the public, but livestreamed on Facebook.

by Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara Gazette / March 20, 2020

(TNS) — Day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, the impact of the spreading coronavirus pandemic is sweeping through Niagara Falls, N.Y., much as it has the rest of the country.

Traffic in the Falls’ South End has dropped dramatically, particularly after dark when there are no bars or restaurants to visit. Concrete barriers block all the entrances to the Seneca Niagara Casino and Resort, creating an eerie look of desolation.

And, on Thursday, there was yet another new list of disruptions to everyday life.

Mayor Robert Restaino announced the closing of city hall and all other city buildings. The mayor also announced that the Falls City Council meeting on March 25 will be closed to the public, but live-streamed on Facebook.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can with technology,” Restaino said.

City council members also cancelled the first of a series of new community meetings that had been dubbed “Council in the Community.” The first of the meetings had been set for Saturday morning.

“Things are moving so fast. It’s changing day-by-day or hour-by-hour,” Council Chair Chris Voccio said. “When the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) suggested no meetings of more than 50, we thought, we’re OK, we won’t have 45 people (at the meeting). But once they issued the guidance of no more than 10 people (at a gathering), we we knew we’d have more than five people coming.”

Voccio said the cancelled community meeting will not be rescheduled.

“If (the duration of the various states of emergency) was just going to be a month or two we would have rescheduled. But I haven’t heard anyone say it will be over that quickly,” Voccio said, “so we’ll stay with the remaining three we’ve scheduled.”

The next projected Council in the Community meeting would be June 11, at 6 p.m., at the Niagara Street School.

Voccio admitted the Wednesday council meeting will feel out of the ordinary without residents present.

“It will be a different experience,” the council chairman said. “This is a whole new game for us. I’m just hoping it will be short-lived and we can get back to public meetings real soon.”

In the meantime, Voccio said residents will be able to participate, as they do at meetings they can attend in-person.

“We’ll stream it so that people can watch it live,” Voccio said, “and they’ll be able to submit questions via email and they’ll be read by the city clerk.”

With Tuesday night’s revelation that a patient at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center had tested positive for the coronavirus, and Thursday’s news that there are now three more confirmed cases in Niagara County, Restaino said he has begun preparing for what a spread of the virus will mean for city operations.

“We had a meeting at 10:30 (a.m.) Wednesday to deal with the emergency (brought on by the virus pandemic),” Restaino said. “And by 1:30 (p.m) we had to bring everybody back because things had changed.”

The mayor expressed concern for the city’s high population of seniors and said efforts were focused on trying to protect them from the transmission of the virus.

“On Wednesday, the previous public health emergency was modified to a general state of emergency so as to provide for additional actions that may be necessary for public health and safety,” Restaino said.

Restaino suggested that people doing business with the city should contact the appropriate city department by phone, mail or email.

Those needing background checks can contact the police department Records Office by phone. Accident reports can be obtained by going to the city’s website and clicking the link to the the police department web page to receive a report.

“Parking restrictions such as alternate parking and time limited parking are waived at this time until further notice effective (Wednesday), with the exception of handicapped parking,” Restaino said.

The Niagara Falls Water Board, in a statement, said it was taking measures to reduce the exposure and impact of coronavirus on its “customers and employees.

“No COVID-19 related service disruptions are anticipated at this time,” the board said through a spokesman. “The water board is closely monitoring the situation and implementing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as direction from local and state authorities.”

The water board said requests for service can be handled by phone.

“If you are quarantined or sick and call for service or to report an emergency, please tell us about the conditions at the time that you call,” the water board spokesman said. “Water board staff will work with you to determine the best course of action regarding your service.”

©2020 the Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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