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Parkersburg pitches COVID-19 cuts

Stabilization fund eyed to offset part of reductions

PARKERSBURG — Parkersburg City Council will be asked to consider budget revisions representing a “worst-case scenario” of nearly $2 million in general fund revenue lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic when they meet Tuesday.

Also on the agenda is a proposed B&O tax exemption to help businesses as they attempt to recover from being partially or fully shut down in recent weeks.

A Finance Committee meeting is slated for 5 p.m. Tuesday, with the regular council session at 7:30. Both will be conducted using the Microsoft Teams app and streamed live on the city’s YouTube channel.

Attendance by the public will be limited to four people in the executive conference room because of Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department guidelines, and there will be no in-person public forum per temporary rules approved on a 7-1 vote during a special council meeting.

With many businesses closed or operating at reduced capacity as part of efforts to restrict the spread of the novel coronavirus, city officials expect a decrease in revenue. With the municipal sales tax and business and occupation tax collected quarterly, the extent is not yet known.

The revisions to be considered by council Tuesday represent what Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce and Finance Director Eric Jiles “agree to be the worst-case scenario,” Joyce said.

“We really don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” he said.

Under the administration’s proposal, the budget reductions will be partially offset by $1,065,389 from the city’s stabilization fund. It has a balance of about $2.2 million.

“That’s why we put the stabilization fund in place,” Joyce said.

The mayor said he hopes not all of that stabilization money has to be used.

“Hope is not a plan, but I would rather plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

The largest single projected reduction is nearly $850,000 from B&O, which is assessed on businesses’ gross receipts and sales. But a cut of just over $1 million is requested because Joyce wants city council to approve a $500 B&O exemption for nearly 1,000 businesses selling tangible property, renting or leasing real property and providing services.

Although that represents an additional $200,000 in lost revenue, Joyce said he believes the move is “an absolute no-brainer.”

“We can weather the storm … a lot easier than a restaurant in downtown Parkersburg or a barbershop,” he said.

The proposal is just for the second quarter of the year, April through June, but “we will revisit it based on the economy and the status of the comeback and conditions going forward,” Joyce said.

The first reading of an ordinance creating the exemption, and giving businesses additional time to file their return and pay the tax, is on council’s agenda for Tuesday.

Other general fund reductions include a projected $363,696 drop in municipal sales tax revenue, $103,378 in fire protection fees and $100,000 in the hotel occupancy tax. In separate funds, Memorial Bridge revenue is projected down by nearly $300,000 since the bridge has been open without tolls for nearly two months. The user fee and sanitation fee receipts are predicted to drop by $219,612 and $72,168, respectively.

A number of budget cuts are proposed as a result, including holding off on installation of an underground stormwater retention system in City Park. Joyce said bids for the project came in “significantly above” the $264,417 budgeted.

Another $250,000 would be removed from the demolition fund. At its May 5 meeting, council approved a revision to the Community Development Block Grant budget to redirect $170,651.63 to demolitions, which Joyce said should allow work to address slum and blighted properties to continue in spite of the cuts.

For the Memorial Bridge, $200,000 worth of maintenance that might have been put out for bid before the end of the fiscal year but not completed will be deferred, Joyce said.

Other proposed cuts range from $130,000 in deferred stormwater line maintenance and repairs to a voluntary $1,260 reduction in Joyce’s $80,000-a-year salary.

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

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Tuesday’s Meetings

* 5 p.m.: Finance Committee

* 7:30: City Council

Both meetings will be conducted via the Microsoft Teams app and streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

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