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Meriden’s mayor discusses city’s response to pandemic

Meriden’s mayor discusses city’s response to pandemic

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MERIDEN — The city recently sent out quarterly tax bills due May 1, but residents who are unable to pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic will get some relief. 

An executive order signed by the governor this week authorized the city to establish a deferment program to allow for more time to pay and/or a low-interest rate program, which would charge lower interest fees for residents who are unable to pay on time. The order requires municipalities to establish at least one of the two options by April 25. The City Council is expected to decide in the coming weeks, and a resolution on the issue is on the agenda for Monday’s virtual council meeting. 

Mayor Kevin Scarpati and City Manager Tim Coon said the city is seeking clarity on the governor’s order. Logistically, it will be difficult for Meriden to administer the program because it’s part of a small minority of state municipalities that send tax bills quarterly. The city will only have a matter of weeks to develop the program before bills are due, Coon said. 

Scarpati recently announced the possibility of tax relief programs for residents and businesses during a remote interview with the Record-Journal Friday. The 40-minute interview covered many aspects of the city’s response to the pandemic. The full interview was broadcast live on the Record-Journal’s Facebook page and can be viewed there.  

Here are a few takeaways from the interview. 

Capacity, PPE at MidState 

Scarpati, who along with other city officials has been in contact with MidState Medical Center, said the hospital recently doubled its capacity for Intensive Care Unit patients to 21 by canceling elective procedures and using areas of the hospital that would normally be used for other surgeries. The hospital, Scarpati said, is in “stable condition” when it comes to its supply of personal protective equipment and more is expected in the coming weeks. 

“As long as those come in, they should be in an OK state,” Scarpati said. 

Hunter’s Ambulance workforce down 10 percent

Responding to a question about how city staff is holding up during the pandemic, Scarpati mentioned that the city’s ambulance contractor, Hunter’s Ambulance, is down about 10 percent of its workforce. 

David Lowell, COO of Hunter’s and the City Council’s Majority Leader, confirmed Friday that about 20 of his 200 ambulance employees are unable to work either because they are sick with illness other than the coronavirus or were required to self-quarantine after being exposed to a high-risk patient. 

Lowell said the drop in staff has not been an issue so far because lower overall call volumes has allowed him to shift resources. 

Lowell explained that while Hunter’s is beginning to see expected increases in emergency calls, particularly for possible symptoms of COVID-19, the company’s non-emergency medical calls have dropped even more. 

Non-emergency medical transportation makes up a good portion of the company’s calls, Lowell said. The calls can include taking a patient to and from a doctor’s appointment. Because many elective surgeries and appointments are being canceled during the pandemic, those calls are declining, freeing up resources for emergency calls.  

Crowds at Hubbard Park 

As the city keeps parks open to allow residents to get outside during the pandemic, Scarpati said he’s heard from many constituents about people not practicing social distancing, particularly at Hubbard Park. The city in recent weeks has closed basketball courts, tennis courts, the municipal golf course, and the Hubbard Park playscape in response.

Scarpati said parks will continue to be monitored.

“We can’t be everywhere all the time,” Scarpati said. “I know people send me messages and expect me to run over to a basketball court or a playground on a moment’s notice, but to some extent people need to be monitoring it themselves also, and if they see something, say something.” 

mzabierek@record-journal.com203-317-2279Twitter: @MatthewZabierek