The Plattsburgh Common Council’s Finance and Budget Committee discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the city’s budget Thursday and what potential long-term planning they should begin considering.
Only Ward 6 Democrat Jeff Moore and Mayor Colin Read were physically in City Hall for the Finance and Budget Committee meeting and subsequent full council meeting. The rest of the members of the council participated via Skype to comply with social distancing recommendations. The Finance and Budget committee guides the five- and 10-year fiscal planning for the city. It had boilerplate items to consider on its agenda to forward to the full meeting. During new business, Chair Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly asked for input regarding potential financial impacts of COVID-19. “It’s only been two weeks folks, no need to panic.”
Ward 3 Democrat Elizabeth Gibbs is concerned about potential loss of revenues through the county sales tax. “We're going to have to understand that probably by the end of this year the budget isn't going to look the way we had anticipated. There are going to be some definite budget fluctuations as a result of all this and I think that just need to keep that in mind.”
Ward 5 Independent Patrick McFarlin says the work that the council has done to build up the city’s fund balance will be a crucial buffer. “We need to have a positive fund balance for these emergencies that come up. I think the other things we need to focus on now are keeping track of what we do and what works best. That is so if this situation arises again in the future. Certainly nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime but I don't see a strong reason why it couldn’t. I think we need to set up, start collecting data. And so we can set up a plan that says these businesses or these parts of the city are not essential, instead of having to go and ad hoc decide which people are nonessential and things of that nature and really try to set up our systems in case something like this happens again in the future too.”
Ward 1 Democrat Ira Barbell expects financial difficulties to emerge this year and does not want the panel to wait on any budget revisions until the end of the year. “You know, I think we can give it two-three months. But then I think we need to sit down and reexamine the budget at that point. And you will be in a better situation to see what the deficit is three months from now and what you projected to the end of the year. And I don't think you wait to the end of the year to figure out what you're going to have to do. I think you have to make some decisions three to six months into this year, to not allow the deficit to continue to grow any larger.”
Mike Kelly expects city revenues to be OK for March but after that he anticipates reductions in revenues and increases in expenses. Mayor Read says the five- and 10-year budgeting has been a saving grace as the city faces the new crisis. An economist by trade, he added that the council must now must consider six-month and one-year budget planning. “If we really lower that peak that we're trying to, you know, flatten the curve like everybody keeps saying, that's to stretch a two month catastrophe into a 12 month severe disruption. So I think we really need to be planning for a new normal for the foreseeable future. And then what the city is going to look like at the end of that is probably going to be different because we're going to relatively irretrievably rearrange some priorities. But I think we need to immediately start planning for the future and make some very difficult decisions.”
City councilors will meet via Skype until further notice. Meetings are webstreamed.