MOUNT VERNON — As state and local officials take steps to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, residents have tracked social media posts about business closings, product shortages, and cancellations of events.
Effective 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine issued a “stay at home” order. That means Ohioans must stay at home except for essential activities.
At Monday night's city council meeting, council members got a glimpse of the economic impact of those prevention measures.
City Auditor Terry Scott said that he and Mayor Matt Starr communicated with local businesses over the past week, learning about altered work schedules and reductions in staff. While those issues are still in flux, Scott said, “What we do know is that we need to take cost-containment measures to operating the city.”
Scott said the city is $200,000 short compared to March 2019 revenue.
“We still have one more week to go, so we may pick up the revenue,” he said. “If March employment is being reduced, we won't see the impact from that until next month.”
March employment is definitely reduced.
Jeff Gottke, president of the Area Development Foundation, provided a snapshot of the county's manufacturing sector. As of Monday afternoon, 700 workers lost their job.
“Some of those losses are due to layoffs, some are indefinite furloughs until the stay at home order is lifted,” he said. “The trucking industry is doing well and is increasing, so some jobs might be hired back.”
Gottke said that some companies can change their production focus. For example, a company might cease making parts for the auto industry and move those workers into its trucking division.
Food packaging is doing well, as is the construction sector. Gottke said that one local manufacturer received calls from American companies interested in bringing their offshore production divisions back to the United States.
“It's going to be bad, but we don't know for how long. That's up to state officials,” he said of the overall picture.
“Obviously, business and industry are our largest employers, but we have a lot of small businesses that are going to be impacted by this, too,” said Council President Bruce Hawkins.
Gottke said what the county needs to avoid is coordination failure. Coordination failure is when supply and demand are out of whack. Currently, the county has a supply problem.
“Whatever the city can do to ease the tax burden to keep demand high, that will help on the demand side when supply returns,” Gottke told council.
To help city residents, the city has discontinued water shutoffs due to nonpayment and extended the filing deadline for income taxes from April 25 to July 15.
About 85 percent of city revenue comes from income tax withholding. Scott noted that if federal and/or state stimulus packages come through, the city might recoup some money down the road.
“What won't show up are workers' withholding coupled with corporate profit lost due to closures by the state,” he said. "What I am looking [ahead] to is these businesses that have to close, we certainly don't want them to have to close permanently or leave our community."
Scott anticipates the pandemic will extend into June. He said it takes a month after to start recovery.
“If this is the case, the administration will have to start looking at what other measures might need to be taken for our summer programs and projects,” he said.
One measure council took Monday night was to postpone hiring a second assistant law director. Acknowledging the need for the position, Council Member Samantha Scoles, chair of the Employee and Community Relations Committee, said, “We need to see where our finances are going to be. We should be very prudent with our funds. I would feel better if we had a better grip on our finances.”
By a 6 to 1 vote, council postponed the third reading of the ordinance until the April 27 council meeting. Councilman Tanner Salyers cast the dissenting vote.
Council has implemented or is considering other cost-containment measures:
--Hiawatha Water Park. Planned repairs and maintenance are on hold. The state has advised the city to curtail selling season passes in the event mandated closures require the city to return the money.
--Equipment. The city has already placed orders for several large items such as a trackhoe and truck; those orders cannot be canceled without paying a penalty. Going forward, city departments will defer additional equipment purchases.
--The recently hired parking enforcement attendant will not start work until after the COVID-19 stay at home order is lifted.
Relating to coronavirus measures and cost containment, Safety-service Director Richard Dzik has reduced police department staffing to three per shift because officers are not working directly with COVID-19. He increased fire department staffing to nine.
The fire prevention supervisor will focus on health monitoring measures such as taking temperatures of fire personnel rather than conducting fire inspections. Dzik said he is working with safety-service unions regarding flexibility in staffing.
He is also tracking costs related to COVID-19 because the city will be eligible for some disaster funding.
In other business, council took the following action:
--Authorized the city to bid and contract for the North Sandusky Street water and sanitary sewer project. City Engineer Brian Ball estimates $950,000 for the water portion and $510,000 for the sanitary sewer portion (Northview and Stump Street). Depending on bid responses and Ohio Department of Transportation time frames, the city might limit the project to the South Sandusky Street water lines. Ball expects the project to start in late summer. ODOT requires the Sandusky Street portion to be completed by Nov. 15.
--Authorized removing the traffic light at West Burgess and North Sandusky streets and installing a stop sign for eastbound Burgess Street. Ball said an earlier traffic study did not warrant the light since Siemens' closing. A trial period without the traffic signal did not show any problems.
--Authorized two-way traffic on Spice Alley between East Vine and Howard streets and Walnut Alley between West Vine and High streets. Businesses along both alleys requested the change.