COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) –The city of Columbus has a $41.5 million budget deficit because of unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ordinance 1436-2020, which reduces the city’s general fund by $41.5 million, was passed by Columbus City Council during its meeting Monday.
“Because our revenue is so closely tied to income tax, the staggering unemployment rate has drastically reduced our revenue for 2020. As we work on our budget for 2021, we need to anticipate this lost revenue that may well continue into the next year,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther in a news release before the meeting.
Also in that release from the mayor’s office, the city has been working to reduce spending by eliminating travel, delaying merit raises, and imposing a hiring freeze on almost all positions. In addition, CARES Act dollars from the U.S. Treasury were able to offset expenses related to COVID-19 in many departments, especially Public Health. Through these strategies, the city was able to save roughly $40 million.
The additional shortfall in the general fund will be made up by using the basic city services fund that currently has a balance of $20.8 million.
Ginther said the deficit was five times worse than the shortfall during the great recession in 2008.
“These are very trying times and as our residents and employers struggle, we will continue to find ways to manage spending,” he said.
“We do not know the ultimate economic toll of COVID-19,” said City Auditor Megan Kilgore in the release. “Many variables will impact tax revenues in the fourth quarter and beyond, including the spread of the virus, the duration of the pandemic and behavioral economics such as consumer fear.”
“The difficult reality we face is that during economic downturns city revenue takes a hit at the same time that people need assistance the most,” said President Pro Tempore and Finance Chair Elizabeth Brown. “Despite these challenges, we will continue focusing on providing city services and programs that support the needs of Columbus residents in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 health and economic crisis.”
City Council President Shannon Hardin said the city is working to “right-size” its spending.
“We aren’t laying off employees,” he said. “But we are making careful spending changes to maintain a balanced budget.”
Also on council’s agenda, President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown dove into a proposal addressing public safety and how the city’s police division can better embody peacekeeping.
“Proposed Chapter 1913 codifies directives on control agents, expands them to specialty munitions, and creates additional accountability and transparency around the use of military-style weapons,” Brown said of the proposed legislation.
The legislation also proposes the Columbus Police aviation unit be cut from five to four helicopters.
“Yes, it requires us to make tough choices about how we allocate the limited resources we have, but doing so will enable a more effective strategy to keep all of our residents safe in the long run,” Brown said.
The ordinance was not passed, just proposed during Monday’s meeting.
The next virtual meeting is Thursday 5pm for Northside residents.