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Coronavirus effects showing in local government budgets

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “Precarious” was how the executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League described the financial situation for many of the Mountain State’s 230 cities, towns and villages a month into Governor Jim Justice’s stay-home order due to COVID-19.

“We’re all hopeful that things get better, but this is going to be something we deal with for a great length of time,” said Travis Blosser, executive director of the West Virginia Municipal League.

Statewide, revenue shortfalls were being reported because of business closures during the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, local governments were seeing extra expenses add up quickly because of the pandemic response.

“The financial predicament — that is coming with increased costs as well as decreased revenues, but cities are working diligently to continue to keep government working,” Blosser said.

“That is essential to the quality of life and to the general health and well-being of West Virginia’s citizens.”

On Tuesday, members of Morgantown’s City Council voted to cut $3.1 million from next year’s fiscal year budget reflecting projected declines in business and occupation, gaming, hotel and wine and liquor taxes along with municipal service fees.

“I should emphasize this is the first wave,” Paul Brake, Morgantown’s city manager, warned members of council. “There will probably be a second or third iteration.”

Personnel adjustments were being made and a fire fee increase was proposed in Morgantown.

Charleston was projected to end the current fiscal year with a $2 million deficit because of the novel coronavirus.

Travis Blosser

“Our communities are doing what they do best in a crisis. They are working through it and continuing to make sure most people feel as if nothing has changed, but we do have problems and problems that are going to come to fruition in the near future,” Blosser said.

“Our communities will work diligently to ensure that services never become interrupted because of what’s going on.”

As of Wednesday, direct funding to help with such revenue losses and additional expenses for things like first responder overtime and needed supplies because of the pandemic in counties and cities across the U.S. was not included in any federal relief legislation.

However, a total of $1.25 billion in state relief aid had been designated for West Virginia.

Blosser said Governor Jim Justice previously indicated support for allocating some of that federal money to local governments, if possible.

For now, “Cities are making decisions, as it relates to their individual community, about what they can and cannot do and cannot continue to operate on,” Blosser said.

In some cases, there are reserves to use to address shortfalls.

“But that’s not every community,” Blosser told MetroNews.

The West Virginia Municipal League was established in 1968 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan association to assist local governments. It represents the 230 cities, towns and villages across the Mountain State.

“Every city, town and village in West Virginia has individual circumstances,” Blosser said.

“They’re not all the same. That’s what makes our communities unique, but that’s what also makes this situation that much more precarious for us.”

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