Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Since the Coronavirus pandemic first made its way to North Carolina, state and local governments have been working around the clock to implement preventative measures to sustain the infrastructure of the healthcare system and flatten the curve – local governments are now looking toward the future and how to help residents recover moving forward.
With retail businesses closed for weeks as part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order implemented in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, sales tax revenues are presumably down, meaning county governments will receive reduced funding from the state. With so many unknown factors, Macon County Manager Derek Roland told the board that the budgeting process for this year will be very different.
“There is going to be uncertainty,” said Roland. “When you’re in a recession and you’re planning to come out of that recession, there are some trends you can look to and some economic activity that you can look at and be able to project revenues off of. This is totally different. We don’t know how quickly the economy is going to start back, we don’t know what will be allowed to start back, and we don’t know when it will start back. All of these things tie in to a budget process and revenue forecasting that is extremely uncertain.”
Roland is working with department heads to address the typical needs and services provided by the county as well as developing a plan to fund anticipated needs that arise as a result of the pandemic.
“We will see a very conservative approach and we will have something that, whether it’s one month, three months, six months, or a year, when it’s over, we won’t be in a situation where we’ve overestimated our revenues,” said Roland. “I promise. So, when forecasting these revenues, we’re going to be as conservative as we can and budget for a worst-case scenario for this budget process.”
The Town of Franklin is in the same boat as the county and according to Town Manager Summer Woodard, the town is crafting a budget to allow the town to prepare for what is to come.
“Our revenue’s down about 30 percent and we anticipate that to continue to drop,” said Woodard. “However, we’ve had some additional revenue come in as far as water taps and utility fees, which could offset some of that. The future is still unsure so as we go into this budget, the staff has been very mindful of how we’re going to end this year and really looking at expenditures and how we’re going to address that in the new budget.”
With agencies such as the League of Municipalities providing information and planning predictions, Woodard said the town is moving forward with the budget planning process.
“We told our department heads this first quarter going into this new budget, it’s going to be challenging for everyone across the state and the U.S. Again, these numbers are from a conservative budget standpoint, but please keep in mind that, given the current crisis, they could change. They’re (The League of Municipalities) also saying to be even more conservative with the sales tax. Statewide, they’re considering at least a 25 percent decrease.”