How West Jordan is handling the COVID-19 crisis
Apr 27, 2020 03:37PM
By Erin Dixon
West Jordan City Council meetings are held remotely, with everyone tuning in from their own home or office. (Erin Dixon/City Journals)
By Erin Dixon | [email protected]
West Jordan playgrounds are devoid of children. City employees now work from home, leaving City Hall a ghost town.
Businesses have shuttered. Many residents are unemployed.
Twenty-eight city employees lost their jobs.
When Utah leaders announced a soft closure in March, West Jordan officials followed. Since then, council discussions centered on the virus crisis: how it’s changed the city and how to move forward.
Public meetings are still aired on YouTube and Facebook, though every participant is in his or her own office or home to maintain proper social distancing.
“I appreciate the opportunity we have to meet, even if it is virtually,” Mayor Dirk Burton said. “Under the circumstances, it is more important than ever for us to band together and move forward with the work we have.”
When many businesses closed their doors after the stay-at-home directive, many lost customers. As a result, sales tax revenue for the city plummeted.
“Sales revenue expected loss is 15% from what was expected,” Finance Director Danyce Steck said.
The loss demands adjusting the city budget. Budget discussions will take place in May and June to adjust it for the current fiscal year (July 2019 to June 2020) and the coming year (July 2020 to June 2021.
The City Council is considering many reduction paths to bring down operating costs.
“The first thing we tackled was no wage increases,” Steck said. “The second step was that reduction in force. [We] changed from an operating lease to a lease-to-buy program and to keep those vehicles not just three years but five years. We found some service levels we could reduce like park maintenance or scale back on things like events.
Reserve funds may be used to make up the rest of the loss, which may require a total $6 million from the city's reserve funds over the next two years. At the end of June 2021, there would only be $5.7 million left in reserve.
Every city in the state is required to have at least 5% of its operating revenue stored for emergencies, though leaders are warned against having any more than 25%. West Jordan has remained near 18% for the past several years.
Councilmember Kelvin Green is concerned about the use of reserve funds year after year. Because there is no guarantee that the city’s economy will recover in the near future, he is concerned that using millions from the funds year after year is an unwise trend to set.
“Getting close to $2.2 million in reserves scares me [if we use another $3 million after 2021],” Green said. “That’s not even enough to fix a water main if we had an earthquake.”
Chief Administrative Officer Korban Lee also warned that even though the city has reserve funds available, it is a one-time pocket to dip into.
“This budget that we’re putting together is still not a balanced budget because we are proposing to take $3 million out of rainy-day funds,” Lee said. “We have really got to get our ongoing expenses in line with our ongoing revenues.”
Shining a light
While there is some darkness in the uncertainty, there are lights of kindness shining through. When the citywide Easter egg hunt was cancelled, 26,000 eggs went un-hunted.
West Jordan City Hall published on Facebook that “D.A.R.E. and school resource officers handed out Easter eggs to students at some of West Jordan’s Title 1 schools, who were already picking up grab-and-go lunches.”
At the beginning of the shut-down, there were predictions about the number of infections we would see in the state. Jared Smith, risk and emergency response manager, said, “We're not seeing nearly as many deaths that came out on some of the models.”
Smith also reassured that the immediate future seems manageable.
“[The fire department] came up with a system, built some boxes with some UV lights in them that they’d use to disinfect masks,” Smith said. “They’re building six of these boxes that they can distribute to all the different fire stations and police departments and public works.”