Unfortunately, the total size of Exeter’s general fund pie has stayed roughly the same as they only project an increase of $37,000 from the 2019-2020 to the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Ennis said that he is hopeful that the city’s sales tax could rebound if unemployment shrinks from it’s double digit high. Although, he still anticipates passing a lean budget.
“What we recommended to council was going into this year with a very tight budget…if there’s any changes we can pull those in and make any adjustment to the budget that we need,” Ennis said.
In an attempt to boost their general fund revenues, Exeter is several steps deep in proposing a sales tax measure to the community – as seen on the business page of this week’s newspaper. If a 1% increase goes to the November ballot and is passed by the community the city is projected to add $900,000 to their budget.
Tulare may be the local city most affected by the loss of revenue during the pandemic. As a transit city along Highway 99, much of Tulare’s revenues are from travelers up and down the commercial artery as well as hotel stays for major conferences and the World Ag Expo, otherwise known as the Farm Show.
“They’re talking about downsizing Farm Show and are looking at doing it virtually through the internet,” finance director Darlene Thompson said. “So there might not be anyone coming in.”
The city is estimating its sales tax will be $1.3 million below budget estimates through June and down another $1.3 million through 2020-21. The city is also estimating its hotel tax will be down as much as $230,000 bringing the overall deficit for 2019-20 to $1.7 million and $3.1 million for 2020-21.
“We are in the midst of a storm, the damage is not yet known but each day becomes more and more clear,” city manager Rob Hunt said.
At its May 28 meeting, the city council authorized the use of its reserves, or “rainy day” fund, to cover the $5 million deficit over the next two years, but also cut half a million from the budget over the next two years to reduce the impact to about $4 million, if they need to.
“You save taxpayer dollars for a rainy day,” Councilmember Carlton Jones said. “If this isn’t a rainy day to do that, I don’t know what is.”
Those cuts included reducing the senior center budget by $100,000, as less seniors are leaving their homes; cut the city’s aviation fund of $70,000; reduce its catastrophic fund subsidy by $100,000; reduce the downtown parking fund by $12,000; cut $25,000 from the Social Services fund. The city will also save money on its contribution to the Tulare County Economic Development Corporation after its board voted a new funding formula that reduced the city’s portion from $36,460 to $25,000.
The city also cut half of its budget for travel and training which will save about $103,000. There was some discussion about possible furloughs. A one day per month furlough would save the city almost $1 million over 12 months. The council asked staff to provide additional information on the possibility of furloughs and the possibility of delaying a 2% salary increase scheduled to take effect on July 1 instead of furloughs. Additionally, the council formed a Budget Task Force to meet monthly, to include the mayor and president of the Board of Public Utilities. The task force will present the council with a quarterly review of the budget and amendments based on economic conditions. The first review will be at the Oct. 20 city council meeting.
Woodlake is expecting a 5% decline in sales tax revenue for the current year ending June 30 followed by another 17% drop in 2020-21. Business license fees also saw a decline of 15% this year and a projected drop of another 10% next year. General Fund revenues for the current fiscal year are down nearly $2 million from 2018-19 and are projected to fall another three-quarters of a million by the end of 2020-21.
To compensate for the General Fund loss, Woodlake will spend $400,000 less in general government and cut spending almost across the board. Public Works was cut by 26%, Building Inspection by 12%, and the City Clerk by 8%, but most of the cuts were not to employees.
Overall revenues are expected to increase by $827,000, which is still down $2.6 million from 2018-19. Woodlake is expected to end the current fiscal year later this month with a $1.9 million surplus and a balance of $1.8 million in FY 2020-21. The city said it will use its two local tax measures – Measure R for sales tax and Measure S for recreational marijuana tax – to expand its city hall/police department, complete the development of Castle Rock Park, add a skate park, dog park and walking trails to the city, and work on housing, commercial and industrial development. The city increased its Parks and Grounds spending by 6%.
The city is moving forward with plans to complete the N. Valencia Extension and E. Antelope improvement projects in 2020-21 and is looking for funding to do street improvements on W. Sequoia Avenue and W. Naranjo Boulevard.
Finance Director Steve Huntley told his city council that Farmersville should be “more fortunate” than other cities because it will be bolstered by tax revenue from two cannabis dispensaries. Measure Q, the city’s recreational marijuana tax, is expected to generate $2.4 million for the city in 2020-21. About $413,000 of that will be used to cover a shortfall in the city’s general fund, $1 million will be used to cover capital costs in the general fund and $700,000 will be placed in reserve and used to cover any additional shortfalls in 2021-22. Measure Q will also help fund two new police officers.
“[W]hile the City was in a recent period of financial stability, this was abruptly turned on its head in March 2020 with the National public health emergency declaration at all levels of government,” Huntley stated in his report to the council. “Thankfully, the city is in a good position to respond because of many years of preparation and receiving new sources of revenue.”
The city’s budget emphasized it wanted to avoid any layoffs and will continue with negotiated pay increases but did say it would be delaying a cost of living increase scheduled to take effect this year. In fact, Farmersville will also be hiring maintenance worker to keep up with the growing demands at the sports park, and an operator for the new waste water treatment plant that is nearing completion.
That’s not to say the budget won’t have its challenges. Most of Farmersville’s revenue is from sales tax, and most of that is made up of gasoline sales for commuters traveling between Visalia, Exeter and Three Rivers and tourists traveling to Sequoia National Park. Unfortunately, gas prices plummeted in the last quarter of this year due to a lack of demand during the shelter in place order. Farmersville was regularly listed among the cheapest places to buy gas in the state during the pandemic, according to GasBuddy.com.