One victim of the coronavirus is Georgetown’s budget and the city’s plans to increase taxes and raise salaries for its first responders.
Just less than half the city’s revenue comes from payroll taxes and with many businesses operating at a skeletal level or closed altogether due to the virus, the city’s coffers are beginning to dwindle.
“This is absolutely no discussion of a change in our tax structure,” said Mayor Tom Prather. The mayor’s comments are a sharp contrast to just a couple of weeks ago when he was hoping to have a vote on a tax increase by the end of March so it could be used in the next fiscal year budget due July 1.
Now, it looks like the city may have to approve a continuation budget — the same or similar to the current 2019-20 budget — which would require the city to draw on its $9 million in reserves.
“We have reserves, but we have little money coming in,” Prather said. “If we decide on a continuation budget, however, there is no question we would have to start using those reserves.”
City officials have already starting going through its payroll to determine essential and non-essential personnel, in case the shutdowns due to the virus continue much longer. Prather said he has been in contact with council members, giving them updates on the virus situation, as well as the city’s financial status.
“It is not something I want to do,” the mayor said. “But it’s a necessary step.”
Georgetown’s first responders remain on duty, although they have taken steps to protect themselves, Prather said. The mayor said he is especially concerned about those collecting garbage for the city.
“We have people collecting garbage for some 11,000 addresses,” he said. “They are on the front line of this, but can you imagine the health hazard we would have if we couldn’t collect the garbage for even one week?”
The city’s budget is of concern, but right now there is a greater priority, Prather said.
“Budgets are important,” he said. “At this point, however, our priority is to take care of our people. We’ll address other issues when we are on the other side of this.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.