Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on city finances to be discussed by Decatur City Council on Monday, May 11
The Decatur City Council will discuss the significant economic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Decatur economy and the financial impacts to city government during a study session taking place on May 11 at 5:30 PM.
A STEEP DECLINE IN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY FOLLOWED BY A SLOW AND GRADUAL RETURN IS PROJECTED
For the study session, the city is using a model that “assumes a steep decline followed by a slow and gradual return to economic normalcy (but not full restoration of pre-pandemic economic activity), with below pre-pandemic performance extending into 2021.” The city staff forecasts a revenue shortfall to the General Fund of $5.4 million in 2020 and $4.9 million in 2021 that will need to be mitigated (the city’s cash reserve at the end of March was $9.7 million).
In my view, the model of a steep decline followed by a slow graduate return to “economical normalcy” is an appropriate one to use for Decatur. Decatur never recovered from the “Great Recession.” As one example, using annual data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, between 1974-2019, the number of employed individuals in Decatur ranged from 40,932 in 1977 to 29,979 last year. The declining labor force coupled with population loss means the city was already facing structural economic challenges before the COVID-19 pandemic.
FINANCIAL STRATEGIES TO MITIGATE REVENUE SHORTFALLS ARE VARIED - Among the strategies being considered to mitigate the forecasted shortfalls in revenues in 2020 include use of general fund restricted reserve ($2 million), eliminating or restricting “non-essential” expenditures ($1.85 million), and use of non-general fund internal service funds ($1 million). Other strategies to save money include establishing an employees’ clinic to reduce group health care costs, temporarily reducing funding to police and fire pension funds, revenue enhancements, and the possibility of relief funds from state and federal governments.
NEEDS FOR SOME PUBLIC SERVICES ARE INCREASING WHILE REVENUES ARE DECREASING
While our local economy has been severely impacted, the need for city services is similar or elevated compared to last year. For example, calls for service to the Police Department in the first quarter of 2020 are up 11% compared to 2019 and calls to the Fire Department are flat. Moreover, social service agencies are likely to need significant resources to meet the increased demands for services.
Our city’s number one priority is the health and safety of its residents. As it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic, what the state is mandating in terms of facial coverings will help protect the health and safety of our citizens. The city should consider how it can provide access to facial coverings to those that need them and how it may play a role in areas such as COVID-19 screening, antibody testing, and contact tracing.
CITIZENS ARE ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK TO CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS – If you would like to discuss an issue with a city council member, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for each council member can be found at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council/.
According to the agenda: “The Mayor will accept public comments at different times on the agenda topics below as council and staff discussions proceed. Members of the public should limit their remarks to three (3) minutes, unless granted additional time by the council.” More information about public comments and citizen participation is below.
AGENDAS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE - An agenda to each city council meeting can be found at: https://www.decaturil.gov/mayor-and-council/council-meetings/.
YOU CAN WATCH THE MEETING ON THE CITY’S WEBSITE OR GOVERNMENT CHANNEL 18 - For those that do plan to attend the meeting in person, meetings take place at the City Council Chamber located on the third floor of the Decatur Civic Center (1 Gary K. Anderson Place). Free parking is available in the lot immediately south of the entrance.
CITIZEN PARTICIPATION AT THE CITY COUNCIL MEETING WILL BE MODIFIED DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC – As per the city council packet: “Pursuant to Governor Pritzker's Executive Order 2020-07 suspending the requirements of the Illinois Open Meetings Act requiring in-person attendance by members of a public body for the duration of the Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation, members of the Decatur City Council and senior staff will be participating in this meeting through a Zoom video and audio link. The Mayor and essential members of the City staff will be physically present in the City Council Chambers, and pursuant to Governor's Executive Order No. 2020-10 and CDC guidelines, no more than ten (10) people will be allowed in the City Council Chambers at any one time. Members of the media have been provided notice of this and other city meetings and may be given priority to attend the meeting. However, members of the media are encouraged to view the meeting remotely on the city's live video link, available on the city's website or via Government Channel 18. ... The City Council Chambers will be open to those wishing to personally attend through the normal public entrance on the west side of the Chambers, but no more than ten (10) people may be in the chambers at any one time, social distancing rules will be observed, and audience members must sit in the rear half of the seating area to create a separation zone between public seating and the in-person city participants of the meeting. The podium for Appearance of Citizens has been moved to the rear of the chamber. Persons arriving after ten (10) people have already entered the chambers will be asked to wait in the anteroom of the City Council Chambers where they can watch the live feed and wait until a seat is made available by the departure of one or more of the ten (10) people already in the chamber. Public comments can be emailed in advance of the meeting to the City Clerk at firstname.lastname@example.org, and will be provided to the City Council and others requesting them. Self-produced videos of no more than three minutes that include the name and image of the speaker, will be aired if they are received by the City Clerk by 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting and conform to the council's existing rules.”