Like pretty much every government entity and most businesses, finances aren’t looking great for the city of Williamsburg right now, but Mayor Roddy Harrison says he won’t even talk about laying anyone off.
Because of COVID-19’s effect on the economy, the City of Williamsburg is currently projecting to have a deficit at the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.
“We are going to have a shortfall. I don’t know how bad yet. I think by the end of May, we will really have a better idea. If the shutdown continues to go on through June, it is going to be a sad thing,” Harrison said noting the deficit could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, isn’t looking too rosy either.
Harrison said that he has heard projections as high as possibly as a $500,000 reduction in revenue for next fiscal year, but he is hoping the revenue loss will be a lot lower.
“Our unemployment rate came back a little lower than I expected. That is a lot better than a lot of other places. With that said, maybe the numbers won’t come in as badly as I predict,” Harrison said. “I am an optimistic person, but in this case, you can’t help but be pessimistic. I am kind of thinking worst case scenario and then anything else above that would be good.”
Whitley County’s unemployment rate increased from 5.0 percent in February to 6.7 percent in March. Whitley County’s March 2020 unemployment rate was 1.2 percent higher than the March 2019 unemployment rate.
Harrison had initially hoped to give pay raises to city employees next fiscal year, and said department heads have worked diligently with him to reduce expenses.
“They deserve a raise. The city’s goal was to give them a substantial raise this year, but I don’t know how I am going to do that in this upcoming budget,” Harrison said.
He added that if the economy picks back up this summer, then he would still like to give employee pay raises.
Harrison said the effects of the COVID-19 economic slowdown will be somewhat mitigated by some cost saving measures the city previously put into place, such as an energy savings plan and a fleet maintenance program, which are both paying dividends.
“I’ll know more the end of May or first of June than I know now,” Harrison said.
Harrison said that he isn’t planning any major cutbacks right now.
“I will not talk about laying anybody off at this time. I’m not going to do it. I will lay myself off before I do that,” he added.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harrison noted that the city was on pace to have a good year financially.
Harrison added that one of the most aggravating parts of the COVID-19 crisis is the fact that he has spent the last 15 years as mayor trying to get downtown revitalized.
Just when things were getting close to opening, such as the new Butcher’s Pub restaurant, and the University of the Cumberlands’ Marketplace at Third and Main project, then COVID-19 struck stalling several projects.
“It took 15 years to get to that point and 33 days to nip it in the bud. This shows how quick things can happen,” Harrison added.
Harrison said after May 25, the governor’s guidelines allow for groups of no more than 10 people to gather, and he hopes this means that the city can at least re-open the picnic shelters at Briar Creek Park.
“There again, how do you police it?” Harrison asked.