CARBONDALE — The waves of COVID-19 aren’t likely to be totally stilled with a vaccine — if or when there is one widely available — and Carbondale officials are trying to find ways of softening the virus’ economic impact both in the short and long terms.
During a meeting of the Carbondale City Council on Tuesday, city leaders discussed the potential shortfall of tax revenue, and how it could impact future budgets. But more than that, they discussed ways to stop the bleeding as much as possible.
Council was asked to discuss specific items in order to provide direction for city staff, namely the possibility of redirecting tax funds to the general account or to increase property taxes.
In the opening of that discussion, City Manager Gary Williams addressed the initial $2.2 million loss the city previously anticipated, noting that this was covered by redirecting taxes to the general fund. But that decision was made with the expectation the pandemic would be over by now.
"Because there is no end in sight, we expect this budget year to be much worse than we had initially anticipated," Williams said during the Tuesday meeting.
Council and staff had to find ways to set the city up as best as possible for future budget years. Williams said in an interview Friday that the moves to redirect $1.9 million this year from food and beverage tax, package liquor tax and part of the home rule tax, as well as furloughing all city employees for 52 hours each, covered the shortfall this year. But the question is whether those methods will be sustainable for future budget years.
When presented with options to raise revenues by increasing sales taxes and property taxes, many on the council shook their heads no.
Councilman Adam Loos said during the meeting that he was less interested in seeing revenue increases, and more interested in expenditure cuts. He pointed to the growing obligation the city has to fund public safety pensions. It is here that he suggested a cut. He said reducing staff in public safety positions isn't exactly a one-to-one savings — each employee does not require the same level of pension payments by the city — but it was a start.
Ultimately, the council didn't make any decisions this week. The conversation ended with council asking city staff for more options to make up potential lost revenue in fiscal years 2022 and beyond. Williams said these will be presented at a future meeting, but noted that decisions need to be made quickly as some taxes levied this fall won't be collected until next fall, impacting the next budget year.
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