The COVID-19 epidemic could mean deep cuts in the city’s delivery of goods and services as the mayor announced spending cuts that will begin Friday.
Mayor Jamie Mayo said the combined hit of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Easter Tornado means the city will begin major belt-tightening that is not expected to be enough but will probably mean additional cuts in goods and services.
In February Mayor Mayo and city councilman, Doug Harvey had a heated exchange over the advisability of approving a budget that did not consider an expected drop in revenue. Harvey told the mayor that the city needed a contingency for expected dips in sales tax revenue. In response, the mayor told Harvey that he was new and did not understand how things operate in his administration. Despite Harvey’s objection, the city council approved a budget that included generous pay raises for some staff and scores of padded job slots.
Now, two months later, after being hit hard by a drop in sales tax revenue from COVID-19 Shelter in Place rules, plus the costs of the Easter Sunday tornado cleanup, the mayor has introduced cuts that his office estimates will save $500,000 over seven months.
However, Harvey says the actions the mayor proposes won’t be enough because the city’s February reports showed significant drops in revenue over last year and that was before the March and April shutdown orders and the Easter Sunday tornado.
The mayor announced that all city employees will face a salary decrease amounting to four hours a week and no raises would be given.
The mayor put a freeze on non-essential spending, non-critical travel, specialty pay not mandated by law, and other spending cuts.
City council president Juanita Woods said the cuts are a step in the right direction but will probably need to be revisited again.
Woods said all cities across the nation are trending downward with respect to sales tax revenue, but Monroe’s problem has been compounded by a tornado.
She praised city leaders and members of the council who took the “admirable” step of docking their own pay to help out.
Harvey said he felt the mayor’s action is “reactive” because sooner or later the city may face the need to reduce services to the public.
He said he is deeply concerned that police officers and firefighters are included in the cutbacks. He said health and safety are essential and should not be reduced if possible.
Harvey said his review of city income data shows the city’s sales tax drop could mean upwards of $2 million in sales tax losses in the fiscal year that begins May 1.
He said the city has established a financial review team, but he has been excluded from reviewing the data and reports of the team.
Harvey said the entire council should be apprised to the city’s declining resources and what plans are being made to respond to decreased revenues.
He said the February reports showed a seven percent monthly drop that has resulted in an accumulated two percent drop. He noted that the February report is from January sales before the COVID-19 shelter in place orders or the Easter Tornado.
The mayor said the “full effects of the shutdown will not be known for some time.” His reductions have been ordered for seven months.
A council takes office in September.