Batavia preparing for anticipated revenue shortfall due to coronavirus pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the Batavia community, city Administrator Laura Newman said.
The financial toll on city finances, while expected to be substantial, is unclear. Local shops and restaurants are struggling to survive. The lives of business owners, their employees and others affected by the stay-at-home order have been cast in turmoil.
City officials have been communicating those concerns to regional and statewide councils of government, while taking steps locally to weather the storm -- a difficult feat when the severity of the pandemic's impact remains to be seen, Newman said Thursday during a virtual town hall meeting.
"I never would have expected in my lifetime that our community would be facing both a health crisis and an economic crisis such as the one we're facing today," she said. "It will take all of us working together, supporting one another, doing whatever is in our ability and our responsibility to get through this."
With an anticipated dip in sales taxes and other city revenues, Newman said a potential shortfall of 20% is not out of the question -- "it could be less, it could be more." So far, she said, there has been very little relief funding available for municipalities.
City officials, in turn, have identified $5.5 million worth of expenses in this year's budget that will be deferred at least two months and reevaluated, Newman said. Those costs include equipment replacements, software program purchases and upgrades, some maintenance and repair projects, and the cancellation of training and associated travel.
Staff layoffs or furloughs are not planned for this year, she added.
When the economic picture becomes clearer, the next step would be developing a three-year plan for how the city should adjust its annual budget accordingly.
Batavia has a strong "rainy day fund" with 145 days worth of reserves, Newman said, "and if ever there was a rainy day, this is one." But city officials hope to use as little of that money as possible.
The reconstruction of Main and Prairie streets and two major stormwater improvement projects, are among the infrastructure upgrades that will move forward during the stay-at-home order and "keep the engine of the economy running," Newman said. The city also is looking ahead at new businesses that intend to open, industrial sites that may be developed and the future advancement of projects such as One Washington Place or the Batavia Boardwalk Shops.
The Batavia Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Thursday's forum, has been working to support local businesses, hold educational seminars and provide daily information relevant to the COVID-19 crisis and stay-at-home order, officials said. The city has been trying to do its part, too, by keeping expired liquor licenses active for now and not charging late fees on utilities.
Newman praised residents and business owners for their voluntary compliance to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's orders, which she said the city will continue following.
"We're fortunate that we live in a town where people pretty much want to do what's right," she said. "I want us all to feel like we're one team and one family as we first try to survive this shutdown and also work together to rebuild our businesses so we can get back on track."