Sunday, October 2, 2022

As the coronavirus impacts the local economy, Historic Triangle localities update their budgets

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pixabay)

With the budgets deadline being June 20, localities in the Historic Triangle are having to readjust quickly due to the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

In James City County, Scott Stevens, county administrator, released the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 on April 2, but this budget was compiled previous to the coronavirus pandemic. Stevens said the budget has the potential to change, but it’s difficult to determine because there’s no way of knowing how severe the economic impact will be.

“We’ve been talking with [other] Hampton Roads communities a couple of times a week and budget has been a topic mentioned several times,” he said. “Most are unsure of what it will expect for an impact for this year and next year.”

Stevens added that most localities have implemented some kind of hiring freeze and limited spending, which will most likely be reflected on new budgets.

Moving forward, Stevens said James City County will try to remove some expenses from the budget or leave in certain expenses without making a commitment to them.

Many of the Capital Improvement Projects in James City County are funded by cash and if there isn’t the revenue, then they’ll have to postpone the project. Stevens said the county is currently making a list of projects that can be postponed.

Stevens said this is only the second time he has composed a budget with the Board of Supervisors so it all depends on what the Board’s preference is in regards to changing certain aspects. 

“We do recognize that spending our savings is not what we want to do,” he said. “But it’s a bit of a moving target. If the coronavirus peaks next month and things get back to normal by July or August, then the impact is menial. But if we peak and people are slow to travel, then I’m not sure.”

James City County will hold a public hearing Tuesday that allows board members and the public to comment on some aspects of the budget. Stevens said the goal is to again meet virtually during the following week and then try to adopt a budget by May 12.

“That’s the schedule we would like to hold onto, but we’ve got to see what happens,” he said. 

Last week, the city of Williamsburg addressed its future changes to the budget during a City Council meeting.

City Manager Andrew Trivette laid out a new plan to prepare for potential revenue losses that involves considering the worse case scenario. Despite having started planning the budget early this year, Trivette said community restrictions will have an impact on what now needs to be changed for fiscal year 2021.

“We at the city have already started planning for how we as the Williamsburg community and a greater region will emerge from the stay at home directive from the governor,” Trivette said during the meeting. “I think it’s fair to recognize that it’s unlikely that it will just be the ringing of the bell and everyone will go back to normal just as it was.”

While the budget was originally planned to be delivered to City Council on March 20, the schedule has been pushed back by 30 days. Trivette now plans to deliver the updated budget on April 20, present the budget to the public on May 11 and May 14 and have the budget adopted in June.

York County

Neil Morgan, administrator for York County, said Monday they have spent the last three weeks “scrambling” to come up with another budget before the Board of Supervisors meeting on April 21.

The March 17 budget, which Morgan had presented to the Board, was put together over the winter and had to be redone.

“It has been revised and it’s substantially different than what I recommended then,” he added.

Morgan said the new budget is smaller and he is recommending the general fund to be reduced by around 4.7 percent. See the revised budget here.

It will include debt service and VRS contribution defined by the state, Morgan said, but new spending mentioned in the March 17 budget such as salary increases, contribution to schools, new positions such as a hybrid crew and sheriff’s deputies and specialized equipment won’t be included.

Other cuts are stormwater and sewer projects.

“It’s disappointing because we were making progress,” Morgan said. “It’s really hard to know how this disease, pandemic will affect our finances. It’s clear that is it is and will, but what is really hard to forecast…when things will get better.”

Other measures in the new budget include a hiring freeze and not undertaking new capital projects such as the Yorktown Library, which will be delayed one year to save money on debt service, Morgan said.

In terms of jobs, the general hiring freeze can make exceptions for necessary positions for example, hiring a registrar office vacancy during the presidential election.

Morgan said they had to cut general fund by $7.1 million and have asked the school to absorb 20 percent or $1.5 million to minimize the reduction. He added they are “asking them to take a $500,000 cut in this year’s budget.

York County and the school funds had $9 million allocated which have now been reduced to $1 million in funds for emergencies, he noted.

The Grafton School Complex projects to replace the HVAC equipment, create security areas and renovate the main offices cost $1.8 million which will be allocated in fiscal year 2022. In fact, most of the school projects are pushed back a year if not several, according to the new recommended budget.

“We’re just pushing everything out a year,” Morgan said.

He said he thinks the first quarter of the fiscal year, July, August and September will be really bad and they are basing the budget on that scenario.

But he noted more than half of the revenue such as property tax is “somewhat cushioned” and won’t “swing as rapidly as sales, meals, lodging” and tourism.

“We’re hoping that the cuts I’m recommending are enough, but I have to be honest, this is a very unusual situation and I don’t think anyone can be particularly confident how all of this is going to play out in time.”

If the coronavirus continues into the summer months, they will have to amend the budget.

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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