Currently, there have been no city employees who have been laid off, furloughed or had their hours cut although steps are being taken to be careful with the budget during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a recent Washington Court House City Council meeting, city manager Joe Denen was asked by council member Steve Schiltz how the city was doing financially.
Denen had said, “Okay, but we need to be really careful at this point.”
During a phone interview with the Record-Herald, Denen explained that the city is still undergoing certain practices to assist with being careful, such as putting a hold on equipment purchases and filling open positions.
“You’ll have at least five retirements this year that we’re not going to fill,” said Denen. “And you’ll see us tear away at a lot of the spending that we do, which in this case unfortunately, that spending really represents capital items that we do for the long-term benefit of the community. You’ll see us cut back on that.”
According to Denen, city officials have some practice in regards to cutting back financially due to experiences in 2008-2009 during the recession.
“Now — the economic situation doesn’t resemble that at all,” said Denen. “You have a worrying number of unemployment claims but different aspects of the economy show a lot of activity and a lot of strength. Hopefully, as we focus on getting people back to work quickly, that will have a positive economic impact but, in reality, you’ll have complications with this that stretches into 2021.”
According to Denen, it is difficult to determine exactly how the city is doing financially compared to previous years as certain decisions, such as extending the tax filing deadline, effect month-to-month comparisons.
“You’re no longer comparing apples to apples, you’ve got an apple and an orange,” said Denen. “Only about 50 percent of people have filed (their taxes) at this point in time.”
Denen said that state officials have brought up the point that smaller governments tend to make a lot of purchases of items made in the United States, such as large equipment or items that go in the ground like water mains.
“That’s all produced in the United States. We don’t buy foreign pipe, because the standards of its production aren’t the same as the water main you buy in the United States,” explained Denen. “Our purchases are geared more inherently toward domestic items simply because of the quality issues apparent with that.”
For the time-being, social distancing will continue as will public services. The current operation of the city building, including the use of phone calls and the drop box being encouraged over in-person visits, will continue. The procedures will be re-evaluated toward the middle-to-end of May as businesses reopen in the state.
“I’m very encouraged that we’re heading on the road to reopening the economy and that’s dependant on individual citizens — how they interact with the world,” Denen said. “I have tremendous confidence that, with a little bit of common sense, people can do that. At the end of the day, we don’t have a way to wrap everybody in Saran wrap. There’s a way that we can head towards the road of returning to normal, but people need to be conscious of hygiene and social distancing so that we can do this in a safe manner.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.