DELMAR — Last Wednesday marked the 25th time Bethlehem town board members met together in the virtual realm of a video conference call since the outbreak of COVID-19 last March. But, that may change.
Town Supervisor David VanLuven announced Town Hall would open its doors to the public, nearly 14 months after virus mitigation practices called for them to be closed. Though the physical seat of Bethlehem’s government was closed off to its constituents, town departments continued to remain accessible through email and phone calls as employees worked remotely. Other services, such as residents seeking marriage licenses, worked through creative steps to keep the wheels of government working.
Town Hall reopened its doors at 445 Delaware Avenue on Monday, May 3. Bethlehem was to start with limited office hours to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, Monday through Friday. However, VanLuven said all departments would continue to be available by phone or by email from 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Though Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to issue reopening instructions for various industries, virus infection numbers continue to be an ominous news item in Albany County Executive Dan McCoy’s daily conference calls. In Bethlehem alone, VanLuven shared that the number of residents ordered to mandatory quarantine continues to track at around 20 cases.
“Let’s get those numbers back down by wearing our masks, social distancing responsibility, and most importantly, getting vaccinated,” he said.
Nonetheless, Bethlehem’s town hall is among the last municipal buildings to have reopened inside Albany County. Coeymans, Colonie, Guilderland and New Scotland had already opened their respective halls. Bethlehem’s closed doors drew the attention of one resident who wrote a letter to the editor recently to ask why.
“Having the Town of Bethlehem offices open is of significant psychological benefit to Town residents,” wrote Karen Sullivan. “Being open gives our Town a return to normal life and easier access to needed services.”
As other municipalities opted to reopen their buildings, VanLuven had previously said that they did so on their own accord without specific guidelines from the governor’s office. Though the Town of New Scotland reopened its town offices to the public last June, its relatively small size compared to what was formerly the Delmar Elementary School did not allow Bethlehem to logistically maintain public office hours. Now, the town supervisor expressed a desire to sights from pre-pandemic days.
“We look forward to the day we can see everyone’s smile in person,” he said.