One of the casualties of Everett’s budget cuts resulting from the pandemic is the Forest Park Animal Farm. Here, a Silkie chicken named Boo was on display at the animal farm in June 2019. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

One of the casualties of Everett’s budget cuts resulting from the pandemic is the Forest Park Animal Farm. Here, a Silkie chicken named Boo was on display at the animal farm in June 2019. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Cities cut events, jobs and services to brace for tax losses

Everett slashed $2.5 million, including for libraries and parks. Cities are sparing fire and police.

EVERETT — Forest Park Animal Farm’s beloved critters won’t make their debut this year or any time soon.

Coronavirus and COVID-19 are to blame.

The petting zoo is a low-cost casualty of budget cuts Everett made as the city braces for immediate and future revenue losses. Others, such as the 18-month closures of the Carl Gipson Senior Center and Forest Park Swim Center, are more severe.

“None of us are excited by these cuts,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said.

Other austere changes include closures, layoffs and service reductions for cities around Snohomish County.

With businesses closed and commerce stymied, sales are down. Sales tax comprises a large share of cities’ general fund, which covers fire, planning and police and other administrative positions in a city.

Snohomish County, projecting a shortfall of $26 million, froze hiring in all departments for 60 days. The move could chop between $350,000 and $600,000 in spending a month from the county budget.

Cities won’t know how much their coffers will suffer until the end of May, but already are slashing expenses.

“We don’t yet know what type of hit property tax or other areas would have,” Franklin said.

But she’s convinced the outlook is poor.

“Economists all over the country are trying to figure out how it’s going to impact the economy,” she said. “They all agree that we’re going to see a recession.”

Everett, the largest city in Snohomish County, had a general fund budget of $148.7 million this year. The city council approved about $2.5 million in cuts in every department except fire/emergency medical services and police. About 60 people agreed to a voluntary separation and severance program.

Like the senior center and pool, the petting zoo won’t open for 18 months. Sports leagues and summer camps usually supported by Everett aren’t getting funds, and neither are the hanging flower baskets in downtown Everett.

Among other things, there is currently no funding for the hanging flower baskets in downtown Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Among other things, there is currently no funding for the hanging flower baskets in downtown Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Public trash cans haven’t been emptied as often as parks staff were reduced. In the interim, Everett has asked people who visit its parks to “pack it in, pack it out.”

“Our decisions are really being driven by the budget,” Franklin said. “Even if the restrictions were lifted earlier by the state, we wouldn’t be able to afford some of these things.”

Lynnwood leaders estimated a total loss of $5.16 million for its $118 million general fund. The bulk, $3.7 million, is projected to come from lower sales tax receipts. The city’s finance department calculated reductions in sales tax revenue as high as 50% in April before tapering to 5% by the end of the year.

“The general fund is going to get hit really hard, specifically in sales tax,” Lynnwood finance director Sonja Springer told the Lynnwood City Council during its virtual meeting April 23.

Another $1.5 million in lost revenue is expected for criminal justice, lodging and transportation benefit district funds.

Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith ordered the city to suspend hiring for new positions and only fill essential vacant positions, cease or put off non-essential purchases, and skip training and travel that isn’t necessary.

“It’s the mayor’s desire, if at all possible, that we not lay one person off,” assistant City Administrator Art Ceniza told the city council. “That would be the absolute last, last, last resort cut to balance the budget.”

Marysville’s general fund had about $55 million in expenses set for this year. About $40 million of that fund’s revenue came from taxes, which the city estimated would drop 12% overall after a 30% plummet in sales tax.

“That is a significant impact that requires us to plan for reductions,” Marysville spokesperson Connie Mennie wrote in an email.

To trim expenses, Marysville offered voluntary early retirement/severance, suspended hiring for unfilled positions and limited expenditures. Garbage collection, police, sewer and water are prioritized as essential city services, she said.

Monroe planned on a general fund of just over $19 million, a decrease from the past few years. Almost 27% of it came from sales taxes, according to the city’s budget document.

Now the city is facing a reduction between 6% and 10% to its general fund, City Administrator Deborah Knight said. That could total $900,000 to $1.5 million.

The Monroe City Council voted to increase its use of reserve funds to help offset that shortfall.

Over the next few weeks, Knight said city staff will identify ways to reduce expenses in the 2020 budget. That could mean cutting programs, postponing or delaying planned projects and leaving staff vacancies unfilled. Those decisions are up for city council approval in May.

Purchases over $5,000 may be delayed until after that May discussion, Knight said.

“This immediate action is intended to ensure that the mayor and council have as many options as possible to consider when they re-evaluate and discuss making changes to the 2020 budget,” she said.

Mukilteo’s leaders anticipated at least a 10% hit to the sales tax portion of the $18.5 million budgeted in revenue.

Prohibition of large gatherings cut into the city’s events rental fees by about $245,000, mainly through the closure of the Rosehill Community Center. Mukilteo expects it to remain shuttered through May and the large-group restriction to stay in place through July. Parking fines were projected to fall $62,500, because of Lighthouse Park’s closure in mid-March and meters that didn’t work.

The city shed expenses through canceled programs and travel, and reductions in supplies and some services, Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said in an email. Mukilteo also moved money from reserve funds into the general fund to cover the gap.

Snohomish’s biennial budget for 2019-20 projected revenues at $18.4 million, slightly less than the previous years. Despite seeing sales tax receipts up 5.1% for the early part of this year, city leaders planned for an economic downturn.

“Of course, we did not know it would be a worldwide virus outbreak,” City Administrator Steve Schuller wrote in an email. “But we planned for a downturn.”

Now, Snohomish city officials are preparing to see dramatic losses through the end of the year, he said. In response, city staff proposed halting hiring, cutting parks and events, and delaying most new general fund projects, such as facility repairs, park upgrades and a police station remodel. Unless funded by grants or traffic impact fees already collected, new transportation intersection upgrades could be cut as well.

But Snohomish could keep funding the senior center, Boys & Girls Club, Snohomish Food Bank, and Snohomish Health District.

“We definitely propose to continue that funding,” Schuller said.

Schuller said Snohomish is pursuing projects for wastewater, water and stormwater, and a transportation benefit district because it’s a good time to get competitive bids.

Arlington, which also uses a biennial budget, estimated $17.6 million in revenues through 2020. But commerce’s sudden derailment has it facing a 20% decrease in sales tax revenue, which would amount to a 10% reduction for the general fund, city spokesperson Sara Lopez said in an email.

Officials in Arlington won’t immediately replace three open positions, one in maintenance and two administrative. They also suspended hiring indefinitely, and limited travel and training unless it’s required to maintain professional certifications and required continuing education. Some non-essential projects will be put on hold, Lopez said.

Lake Stevens expected more than $13 million for its general fund, with $3.5 million from sales taxes. City leaders anticipate losing about $921,000.

To close that gap, City Administrator Gene Brazel said he isn’t hiring non-critical positions, won’t fill positions that become vacant, suspended purchases not deemed critical, and postponed projects tied to the general fund. A possible casualty is Lake Stevens’ beautification plan, which would have installed entrance signs and other visual improvements this summer.

“For now it is on hold but we will continue to revisit our budget status,” Brazel said.

Stanwood expected about $7.5 million for the general fund this year, according to its 2019-20 biennial document. Last week, City Administrator Jennifer Ferguson said staff were working to quantify the financial impacts of COVID-19.

“This information is not finished yet as there are many unknowns and information is coming in daily,” she said in an email.

Sultan’s leaders were bracing for a sales tax shortfall of roughly $100,000.

“We are expecting significant impacts due to revenue shortfalls,” Mayor Russell Wiita said.

That’s because businesses had to shut down or reduce service and people are out of work. Sultan also is seeing reductions in revenue sources like fees for passports and building permits, he said.

It was too soon to pinpoint a number because March sales tax numbers won’t arrive until late May.

“But it is safe to assume that we will need to cut $200-400k from the general fund,” he said in an email. “Which is a pretty big hit considering that it is only $2.6 million in total.”

Sultan will see less money coming in from utility funds. Early on in the pandemic response, Wiita said the city suspended shutoffs for ratepayers struggling to pay their utility bills.

“While we do not have concrete numbers yet, we assume that there will be a significant number of households utilizing this policy and may find it difficult to pay back those back balances,” he said.

To adjust for these revenue shortfalls, Sultan could postpone projects and expenses like training for staff, professional service contracts and public infrastructure projects.

“The last thing that we want to do is cut staffing and we will take every step we can before getting to that point,” Wiita said.

Herald reporters Andrea Brown, Stephanie Davey, Julia-Grace Sanders and Joseph Thompson contributed to this report.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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