The Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA) held its first-ever virtual city meeting Monday, where talks eventually landed on authorizing emergency expenditures for the containment of the COVID-19 virus.
The discussion quickly went to budget cuts, something Vice Mayor Amy Wurth along with City Administrator Victor Lay believed to be likely in Spring Hill’s future.
“We’re going to be in a really tough situation”
“We’re going to have to take a whole different approach now obviously with the budget,” Wurth said. “I would ask that we actually look to cut somewhere in the budget or to utilize funds not being used, because really, with every new spend we’re going to have to start thinking: where are we going to cut? That’s going to have to be our thinking moving forward as we see our numbers come out for March, April, May and June.”
Extra expenses the city has been incurring due to the coronavirus pandemic include cleaning supplies and services, operating supplies and equipment to enable employees to work from home, increased overtime expenses to fill the gaps caused by employees asked to self-quarantine, and more.
However, a more troubling loss of revenue, Wurth argued, was the inevitable job loss facing the Spring Hill community.
“I think what we have to anticipate is not only the money that we’ve obviously lost in revenue since the beginning of March, but job loss,” Wurth said. “So I think even all the way through 2021, we’re going to be in a really tough situation. I don’t see any increase in spending in the budget, I see reductions in the budget to get through.”
While data on job loss in Spring Hill over the past two weeks is scarce, more than a dozen businesses have temporarily closed in The Crossings shopping district, and Maury Regional Health, one of the largest employers in the city, recently furloughed 340 of its employees.
Nationally, nearly 10 million Americans have filed unemployment claims for the first time. Forbes has gone as far as to propose the real unemployment numbers are sitting somewhere at the 17 million mark, making the current unemployment numbers the single highest ever recorded in American history.
“COVID-19 has really changed the focus of our budget completely”
City Administrator Victor Lay agreed with the premise that budget cuts were more than likely going to be needed in the future, but conceded that hard data on the severity of revenue loss was forthcoming.
“We’re trying to come up with, at least, an estimate of where we think we’ll be - probably in the next couple weeks we’re going to have a much better idea,” Lay said. “The models say that somewhere around April 15, 17, we’re approaching the peak [of coronavirus cases], and then we start to roll down.”
“COVID-19 has really changed the focus of our budget completely, and not just us; we talked to Brentwood, Franklin, Columbia - it’s changed everybody’s budget. So what we’re looking to present to you all is going to be a bare-bones budget showing reduced revenue because of the impact of this COVID-19, and we right now don’t have a great idea on how much that revenue is going to be reduced.”
One method Lay suggested that could lead to a more accurate picture of lost revenue was mobility tracking.
“One of the groups that tracks spending and [does] models on that, similar to the Google Map models you may have seen recently that show mobility, [has shown that] in the Williamson side [of Spring Hill], the number of trips to retail outlets and stores is down like 40, 46 percent, and in Maury County it’s down 30 percent,” Lay said.
“The long-term ramification is that there is job loss - with job loss comes decreased spending, so those are things that we’ll have to take into account.”
The first ever virtual meeting of the BOMA was a non-voting meeting, so city leaders did not vote on any authorizations for new spending. Nevertheless, their discussion sets the stage for the next BOMA meeting and beyond, where talks of budget cuts and amendments are likely to continue.
“This changes everything,” Mayor Rick Graham commented at the end of the budget discussion.
Seeing as the coronavirus pandemic has caused Spring Hill city meetings to go virtual for the first time, spurred on talks of budget cuts after years of economic growth, and forced the temporary closure of parks, public facilities and businesses, many might argue Graham to be correct.