Budgets shrinking in the wake of COVID-19

Kelly J. Kaczala

         Oregon and Jerusalem Township have cut spending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as have most local governments across the country. Yet officials feel they are holding steady at a time when government staff and residents are not sure about their future.
        “We are working through a little bit of a resurgence in Ohio, but we’re going to be alright,” City Administrator Mike Beazley said at a council meeting on Monday. “We still have staff and residents that are a little worried. But we’re working through it. We feel like what we’re doing is working.”
        He called 2020 “an odd year” for the city as events, like the German American Festival (GAF) and OregonFest, popular annual festivals, have been canceled due to the virus. Health department guidelines have urged the public to avoid mass gatherings and follow social distancing.
        OregonFest, which is traditionally scheduled the third Sunday in May, has drawn crowds for over 20 years. Activities have included exhibits, business booths, entertainment, contests, food and a grand parade.
        The 55th GAF was scheduled to be held Aug. 27-30 at Oak Shade Grove.
        “The GAF made the decision since our last meeting to cancel,” said Beazley. “And our OregonFest made the decision this week to not move ahead. They thought of trying to do an event in the fall, but they decided it’s just not practical to do it right now. So we look forward to times when we can all gather together again, but we’re working through it.”
Less spending
        Beazley said the administration just completed a review of the budget for June,
        “We are making an effort to see where we are and make a decision. Normally, at times when we’re cutting back, we try to decide what makes sense and what is the responsible course of action. We are looking at our revenues and our expenditures. We’ve cut back significantly on the expenditure side. And the economy has cut back significantly on the revenue side on our behalf. That’s where we are.”
        After the meeting, Beazley told The Press that the city took steps to adjust the budget when the pandemic hit.
        “As soon as this crisis began, we did a hiring freeze. So we really looked carefully. We have a number of city positions that are open now. We’re hiring fewer seasonal workers - some who cut grass or operate our recreation program. We are cutting back on purchases of equipment. So our objective is to spend less and keep focusing on that as we move forward. Anytime our residents and businesses start losing revenue, it has a hard impact on them. But it also translates into lost revenue for the city itself. We meet our service needs based on the success of the local economy. And when the economy slows down as it has now, and our revenue has fallen significantly compared to last year at this date, we are also cutting our expenditures. We’ve taken in a couple of million dollars less than we did last year at this time and we spent a couple of million dollars less than we spent last year at this time. We’re delaying some expenditures until next year, and canceling others. Anytime you begin a process like this, it takes six to 12 months to get an understanding of the long term impact.”
Jerusalem Twp.
        Jerusalem Township Trustee Mark Sattler said the township has also pulled back on spending.
        “As people spend a lot less money, revenues are less, so there’s going to be a lot less in the budget,” said Sattler.
        “Our revenue sources are down,” he added.
         Still, a road project planned over a year ago will not be canceled, he said.
        “It has been in the works for a year or two. We are going ahead with it. We got a pretty good price on the road work because volumes are down. The roads do need to be repaired. The cost was actually less than anticipated,” he said.
        The township draws revenue from property taxes, fuel taxes, and hotel taxes, he said. There is no income tax.
        “Obviously, hotel use is way off. Fuel taxes are down as well. Hopefully, most people are obeying the governor and trying to minimize their travel. I don’t expect to see a big change in property taxes. Home values should be fairly stable. But the hotel tax is going to be very low. We’re probably seeing just 15 to 20 percent in hotel tax revenue compared to what we saw before COVID-19.” Most of the hotel revenue, he added, comes from the Maumee Bay State Lodge and Conference Center.
        “With a small township, all of our revenue sources are important,” he added.
        “We are anticipating that our fuel tax revenue and hotel tax revenue will continue to drop. We’ve been cautious. We’re watching it very closely.


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