Summit County Council Ponders How Their Budget Should Respond To Covid Crisis
The Summit County Council on Wednesday rolled up their sleeves and talked about how to trim or change their budget—in the face of an unknowable future created by COVID-19.
The discussion will be the first of many. But Council Members agreed on some specific changes, and may act on them before the month is out.
The Council heard from Chief Financial Officer Matt Leavitt, who presented three scenarios of the financial hit their 2020 budget could take from the coronavirus outbreak and the shutdown mandated by the Health Department.
Leavitt said under Option “A”, the most optimistic outcome, the shutdown would only last about 60 days before the economy began to return. He projected they would lose 4 percent of revenues for this year, or about $2.6 million.
Under Scenario “B”, Leavitt saw a loss of a little over 5 percent.
Under Scenario “C”, where the virus would return in the fall, the county’s overall loss would be nearly 6 percent.
Leavitt recommended that the Council plan for revenue losses on a range, somewhere between Option “C” and lesser revenues of the 2017 budget. The loss there, he said, would be up to $4.2 million.
Leavitt recommended several measures to cut the budget. Those include—cutting back on travel and training for the staff by 50 percent; cuts in material and supplies; and adjusting payments for the county fleet. Significant impacts on the staff would include a hiring freeze; taking merit increases that were due in April and delaying them till the end of the year; and the county dropping a matching amount of funding that they planned to put into a 401-K program.
Leavitt said those changes would save about $3 million or a little less.
The Council Members generally agreed to move ahead with that line-up.
Leavitt said the some of the changes won’t likely be popular with the employees.
“Freezing positions and the merit, which affects those people after April 1’s anniversary date—and if any of those people are listening, I imagine they’re probably cursing behind their breath, but (Armstrong) It’s a lot better than staff reductions. (Leavitt) Exactly. And it is something that could potentially—if the optimistic scenario played out—it could be something that could be rolled back.”
The response there from Council Member Roger Armstrong.
County Manager Tom Fisher said he will work on bringing back the changes next week or the week after that.
On a related matter, Armstrong said the county should see if there are funding opportunities from the recently-passed federal stimulus, known as the CARES Act.
Fisher said they have staff looking into that funding, which will likely come down through the state as block grants.
Armstrong said the county could be well-positioned to get funding.
“The challenge is that, based on our economy, we’re different than other counties. We tend to be more prosperous in good times. But in this kind of a pandemic we also get hurt much worse I think than others that may have different kinds of industries than we do.”
At the same time, Council Members said everything depends on when the spread of COVID-19 can be curtailed. Armstrong said that’s a big unknown.
“We don’t know. I mean, there’s a massive social and economic experiment happening in Europe right now. Denmark is contemplating rolling back and getting back to whatever normal is. Austria’s doing the same thing, according to the news today. Italy is contemplating trying to start to lift some of their restrictions.”
Council Member Chris Robinson added that several major industries have been hammered, and likely they can’t be turned back on like a light switch.
“Maybe Uncle Sam’s gonna make everybody whole again, in which case we’re gonna be further broke. We don’t know when we’re gonna start back up again, but it’s not gonna be immediate. Even if we flip the switch, it’s gonna have a long recovery. I think people will be hesitant to travel, even if they have the money, and many won’t. And they’ll be more cautious on expenditures. Their retirement plans and their equity in their stocks and whatever other assets they have has been compromised.”
Summit County Council Member Chris Robinson.