Analysis: Clerk’s report shows some ways COVID-19 affected Southold Town

Ordinarily a town clerk’s annual report would be far from the most interesting bit of paperwork filed at Town Hall.

It’s essentially an accounting of the revenues received by that office — a listing of budget lines for services rendered by clerk staff, including everything from fireworks permits to dog licenses and park stickers. It’s largely similar from year to year.

But in 2020, the year of COVID-19, some lines in the report offer a glimpse into just how much life — and death — changed here. 

Last year saw the Southold Town Clerk’s office issue 11% more death certificates than the prior year, as 1,680 deaths were recorded. It’s the most deaths in town since 2014 and 12% over the average from the prior decade.

Deaths on the North Fork peaked along with the arrival of the coronavirus, with March and April accounting for 14% of the total deaths in 2020.

With the pandemic also came the suspension of events, including weddings and fireworks shows.

While some couples still celebrated their nuptials with small-scale gatherings held in parks and backyards, historical data from the town clerk’s office showed far fewer people obtained marriage licenses in 2020 than in the recent past.

The 80 marriage licenses issued in 2020 marks a 40% reduction from 2019 and is more in line with recession levels from 2009-11, when an average of 83 licenses were distributed per year. Between 2012 and 2019, an average of 122 marriage licenses were issued annually in Southold Town.

Fireworks permits fell from seven in 2019 to just one last year.

Another statistical anomaly presented in the recent report relates to the issuance of residential park stickers used at town beaches. There were 11,129 issued last year as residents flocked to outdoor public spaces — up from a little under 10,000 in most recent years. Conversely, yard sale permits fell from 506 in 2019 to just 29 last year, according to the reports.

The Southold data is in line with a statistics provided by the neighboring Riverhead Town Clerk’s office. Death certificates increased by 30% in Riverhead Town, while marriage licenses declined by 47%.

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