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County projects $5.5 million hit to revenue but no cut in services


The economic damage suffered locally from the coronavirus pandemic has put a noticeable dent in the county’s coffers.

Even though official budget numbers aren’t out yet, county officials project a loss of at least $5.5 million in receipts – from local taxes, state revenue sharing and various fees, including impact fees for new construction – for the current fiscal year because of the COVID-19 crisis, which prompted a six-week shutdown of non-essential businesses in March and April.

However, County Administrator Jason Brown said last week no reduction in services is planned.

“It’s a significant loss, but we’ve been tightening our belts and cutting costs where we can, and we also have reserve funds in hand to cover the rest, so we’ll be able to absorb it,” Brown said, adding that he has imposed a limited hiring freeze and staff travel ban to reduce spending.

Brown said he and his staff will continue to monitor the situation, which already has improved slightly: A previous projection had put the revenue loss at nearly $7 million.

He attributed the improvement to the reopening of more of the local economy and a surge in revenue from county-owned Sandridge Golf Club, which was shut down in March but has been busier than usual since reopening May 1.

Brown said the county expects to receive nearly $28 million in federal CARES Act funds, which must be spent by Dec. 30, but that money may not be used for revenue replacement.

Last week, the County Commission adopted a tentative plan for allocating an initial $7 million in CARES Act funding to cover local expenses from the ongoing COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

The county plans to divide $1.9 million among the county’s five municipalities and provide $1.4 million to county government for payroll expenses, personal protective equipment and IT equipment needed to operate remotely.

Constitutional officers, such as the sheriff, would receive $900,000. The Health Department would get $500,000, and other healthcare providers would get $200,000. The circuit courts and other state agencies would get a share of $100,000.

As for home-grown revenue, Brown said impact fees from new construction are down 25 percent the past two months, but it’s too soon to know if the trend will continue.

“I don’t know what the virus’ long-term impact on construction will be, but if you drive around the county, you’ll see they’re still building,” Brown said. “My suspicion is that, because of the situation we’re in, residential construction will be stronger than commercial construction, which has been lagging.

“I don’t know how many people want to build a new restaurant during a pandemic.”

County Commissioner Tim Zorc said new construction is “one of the largest contributors” to the revenues that help pay for capital-improvement and storm-water projects.

“And that’s down some,” he said.

“Looking at new revenue coming in from new construction, we’re not falling off a cliff yet,” Zorc said, but he acknowledged the pandemic’s impact on commercial construction is a concern.