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Parkersburg, Vienna, Williamstown anticipate budget blow from pandemic

Plan spending freezes, adjustments

The parking lot at Grand Central Mall in Vienna is mostly empty Friday afternoon. The mall temporarily closed March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — The mayors of Parkersburg, Vienna and Williamstown expect the city budgets to take a hit as the slowdown and shutdown of local businesses to stem the tide of COVID-19 continues.

What they don’t know is how much force the blow will carry.

“We cannot discern the exact impact that these events are going to have on our revenue at this time because we don’t have enough data,” Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said. “It will be, I believe, significant, and it will be negative with regard to city receipts.”

The city’s two largest sources of income — the municipal sales tax and Business and Occupation Tax — come in quarterly. The sales tax is collected by the state and remitted to the city a month in arrears, Finance Director Eric Jiles said, so the city will know the totals for December through February by the middle of April.

B&O and user fee payments from the first quarter of 2020 are due at the end of April. That will include the month of March, when the effects of the pandemic on businesses and residents started expanding. Jiles said he expects both those numbers to be lower than projected.

The parking lot at Grand Central Mall in Vienna is mostly empty Friday afternoon. The mall temporarily closed March 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“I believe the major pain of this will come in the following quarter,” he said

On average, Parkersburg collects $2.1 million in B&O; $1.6 million in police, fire and sanitation fees; $1.5 million in sales tax and $567,000 in user fees each quarter, Joyce said. The funds are used to cover the city’s expenses for the next quarter, including an average $5.4 million payroll.

Jiles said the city is funded about 90 days in advance, but “that funding window will shrink” as revenue declines.

Quarterly revenue from Memorial Bridge tolls averages $477,000, but the bridge was made toll-free on March 23 to eliminate contact between motorists and toll collectors. Revenue from the bridge goes into a separate fund for its maintenance and other expenses.

Joyce said he’s in regular contact with the offices of Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin and Rep. David McKinley about potential federal resources to help the city.

A sign on one of the entrances to Grand Central Mall in Vienna informs visitors of its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Vienna and Williamstown are in a similar situation, anticipating losses but as yet unable to determine the extent.

“I’m sure it’s going to make an impact on our revenue,” Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp said. “We’re very heavily business-oriented.”

Grand Central Mall temporarily closed March 23, and the restaurants that populate Grand Central Avenue are not open for dine-in service. But their tax receipts come in on the same schedule as Parkersburg.

“We won’t know probably until July what the actual impact of this is,” Rapp said. “The mall’s a significant part of our budget.”

Rapp noted some large stores like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Home Depot and Lowe’s remain open.

Williamstown has a sales tax but no B&O. Mayor Jean Ford anticipates revenue for March and April being “very small” and added that even if social distancing guidelines are scaled back, “you know you’re not going to go gangbusters in May, June and July.”

“Of course it’ll make a big difference in our budget,” Ford said. “We’re going to have to start looking right away at our next council meeting (April 21) how we can shift expenses.”

Parkersburg and Vienna have enacted spending freezes in anticipation of declining revenue.

Maintenance and repair to police, fire and sanitation vehicles and equipment, emergency street and drainage repairs and safety-related purchases will continue, Joyce said.

“Pretty much everything else is on hold from an expense standpoint,” he said.

The city is contractually obligated to fund projects that were bid, awarded and received a notice to proceed prior to the pandemic, Joyce said. That includes a paving project in City Park and the installation of the replacement for the park’s Jackson Memorial Fountain.

However, those projects won’t move forward until it is safe to do so. The contractors “will be made to demonstrate that they can keep both their employees and the worksites safe,” Joyce said.

Work continues on the new fire station 4 at Emerson and West Virginia avenues. Joyce said contractor Grae-Con Construction has COVID-19 protocols in place to protect its employees and the site is not open to the public.

Vienna is “not spending any money on anything that’s not essential right now,” Rapp said. Even on budgeted purchases, “we’re holding off to see where we actually end up.”

All three mayors agreed the priority is keeping people safe during the pandemic.

“Right now, all we really care about is the health and safety of our people in Williamstown and the surrounding area,” Ford said.

“We’ll figure this out,” Joyce said. “Right now, the key is for folks to stay home, stay healthy and stop the spread of this thing.”

Wood County has not instituted a spending freeze, but Commission President Blair Couch said at a recent meeting officials need to “be careful.”

County Clerk Mark Rhodes said most of the county’s property tax revenue was collected in February and March.

“Moneywise in the bank, we are good. We’ll be OK,” he said.

Staff Reporter Brett Dunlap contributed to this story.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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