The St. James City Council heard on Monday, April 13, that general revenues are down drastically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. City Administrator Jim Fleming informed the council next year’s budget would most likely need to be adjusted due to the lower sales tax being generated while businesses are closed or operating less than normal.
“I have been reworking the budget for the pandemic we are facing. I am estimating for May and June our sales tax will be down 30 percent. I am hoping that is all,” Fleming told the council. “With the business that are closed and our restaurants that aren’t able to seat people, we will definitely be impacted.”
He told the council he had some suggestions on how to adjust the budget to fit the numbers he is estimating, but there could be some programs the city planned for next year that are cut to help with the shortfall in other areas.
The Street Department will be funded based on the original estimates, which is funded through the tourism sales tax and the gasoline tax, allowing for a planned project to repave Springfield. “If both of those are down 30 percent, they will still generate a surplus. Although we were thinking it would be over $100,000, I am still expecting it to be over $30,000,” Fleming said. “What that does is allows us to push forward on the Springfield repaving project.” He told the council the city has saved $327,000 for the project, which would pave from near the post office to the edge of town.
“Parks and Recreation, we had to put in an extra $50,000 from the stormwater (fund) just to get them to break even through March and now we have to pay for April, so they are going to lose about $25,000 in fiscal year 2020,” Fleming said. “We have not filled a temporary position in the park. We have four people there last year and we are going to try to get by with three. Yes, we are using people from other departments to help bolster that.”
He commended all the departments that have been working together throughout both a manpower shortage earlier in the year and now the pandemic, which has led departments to work in two teams to keep workers safer as they continue to provide services residents count on, such as trash pickup.
At the library, the new Library Director Michael Lewis is being trained to take over for retiring Director Linda Ray at the end of April, but two librarians have been laid off. “For the time being, we didn’t have enough for four people to do so they will be collecting unemployment,” Fleming told the council. The city will continue to pay their insurance payments and other benefits while they are laid off.
The Sanitation Department will remain as scheduled as their budget is self-supporting due to their fee structure for services and there are no changes Fleming anticipates for their budget.
“The Utility Department no fees or disconnects have been charged until the 25th. The reason for that is a lot of people that just got laid off are just now applying for unemployment,” Fleming said. Many of those won’t receive their money until “sometime in May” and the utility board felt they should be given amnesty until residents are more financially capable of paying their bills. Fleming added, utility bills still must be paid, but the board is working on a way to give customers a plan for repayment for those struggling. “We’re trying to come up with a payment agreement where they can get caught up over six months.”
“As we talk about the budget and being 30 percent down in sales taxes, that is what drives the general revenue of the city,” Fleming explained. He added he has contacted the school district via letter asking to renegotiate the two School Resource Officer (SRO) contracts to make up the budget shortfall. “By not funding the SRO program, taking those two individuals to bolster our regular patrols, we can go forward with (next year’s) raises and become more competitive. Now, depending on how the school wants to approach the SRO program and where we might be able to come up with another $30,000 to $35,000, we may be able to continue that, but we still, by August, have to find two more police officers to fill our patrols.” The police department has been searching for several months to fill two open positions on the force, using the SROs to do so while schools have been closed.
“The academies they can’t really do this online, so they are not graduating new, certified officers. We will have to find someone who wants to work in St. James and steal them from another department. We can’t do that being the lowest paying wages in the area,” Fleming said.
Fleming reported these changes are based on the current estimates and may need to be changed again based on when the state opens back up and businesses return to regular operation.