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Coronavirus: Plan to Rescue Middleburgh

Written By Editor on 4/10/20 | 4/10/20

$30,000 to Businesses, Juried Plays Key Role By Matthew Avitabile Editor’s Note: I’m writing this story from a personal perspective, with my opinions and feelings expressed throughout. My time as my hometown’s Mayor is coming to an end.

Come Monday, Middleburgh will welcome our new Mayor, Trish Bergan, who was originally slated to take office on April 1st. As I wrote in our last edition before the Coronavirus lockdown (and the subsequent canceling of elections), I knew that current Deputy Mayor Bergan was, and is, the right person for the job.

With my term set to expire on March 31st, the Governor’s announcement meant that I would be remaining in office temporarily. After 13 years on the Village Board, including 8 as its steward, it is time for new leadership. Before I left, I knew that I had one last Hail Mary in me. Being one of the members of the flood recovery effort in 2011-2012, I thought back to my experience hunkered down with volunteers in the Village Hall, doing our best to handle a terrible situation. One of the most successful programs I launched then was a donation fund that was then distributed to flood victims-- about $30,000 in all, without a dime for administrative or personnel costs. And so, one by one, I racked my brain regarding who could help. I knew that Nick Juried, who has been an unflinching supporter of our various communities and a kindhearted person, might be able to. Up late worried about the ultimate fate of our community, recently healed from the damage of Irene, I sent him a heartfelt email. He responded the following afternoon with the sincerity and understanding that I have become accustomed to. And so, the following day, on Thursday night-- halfway through my newspaper delivery route I thought of who might be able to help. Thanks to recommendations of my friends, and my father I contacted several other people with our community’s best interest at heart. My friend and former Mountain Eagle editor Carolyn Bennett held my chin up and took my call past 10 pm that night asking for guidance.

Before 2011’s Hurricane Irene, I didn’t fully comprehend the number of people that loved Middleburgh. From the hundreds of volunteers then to hundreds of volunteers and donors now, there exists a bevy of people ready to help their neighbors for nothing in return. The same happened here in the midst of our current crisis. The yeses continued on--from former Supervisor Dennis Richards to former Congressman John Faso to my friend Michael Ehline to online donors to the head of Delaware Engineering John Brust to our Zoning Board of Appeals Chair John Wingfield. Each one will be remembered for decades for being some of the angels needed to save the community.

All told, we had about $30,000 in pledges, with Nick providing the largest share. The Rotary Club, headed by our own Timothy Knight, agreed to accept and disburse the funds equally to storefronts in the Village that needed it. Our community’s hero (and I don’t use the word lightly), Josh DeBartolo offered to help with Small Business Administration funding guidance for our local merchants. Trustee Bob Tinker from the Village Board offered the key suggestion to defer loans through our community business development fund for three months, providing more liquidity and less pressure for businesses in need. Combine that with the fact that the Village Board again held our tax rate under the cap, homeowners would receive approximately $10,000 in state property tax rebate checks.

 Is this program perfect? Not at all. However, it is a valuable shot in the arm, both in terms of cash and morale for the business leaders who held our community together, along with volunteers, in the difficult days after Irene. I wanted their love and hard work to be repaid-- somehow.

For years I’ve debated a bit on whether or not buying a newspaper (of which I recently sold the majority share) was a wise decision at the end of 2016. It’s stressful, and time consuming, and financially risky. Heck, especially in the current day. However, the friendships I’ve built, including with Carolyn and Nick would not have been possible without being a part of the Mountain Eagle. It was partially through the means of local press that this program came together. Being a part of that team, knowing that it aided my beloved hometown, was worth every dollar, late night, and stress. 

Rotary also announced that in the aftermath of the first wave of checks, it would collect for a possible second round for the businesses most in need. I certainly hope that some of our readers may be able to help the community that I love and consider donating. Checks to the relief fund can be sent to the Middleburgh Rotary COVID-19 Fund, Box 1100, Middleburgh NY 12122.

I was weighing whether or not it was worth it to stay in office past my term due date, as if remaining for any part of April was like coming out of retirement for one last hurrah with those who had already rebuilt our community. And so I spoke to my longtime beau Heather and asked for some insight-- knowing me for 11 ½ years. She told me that she knew I wouldn’t leave until something could be accomplished for those in need. Heather likened me to a loyal dog, waiting by its hurt master until help could arrive.

And thanks to people I am proud to call our community’s friends, it did.

 Furthermore, the fruition of such a task left me drained, both emotionally and physically. As I wrote on Facebook Wednesday, watching my friends suffer through an ongoing crisis has ripped my heart out. As a result, I announced that I will be turning over the keys to Middleburgh’s new Mayor Trish Bergan and wish her great success over the next four years. I know full well that under her leadership Middleburgh, especially working with my mentor, Town Supervisor Wes Laraway, will improve and gain in the coming period.

The next weeks will be difficult, but our determined corps of business leaders, volunteers in the Rotary, Joshua Project, Knights of Columbus, and municipal leaders will usher in the next, best days to come for Middleburgh.
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