There’s “getting back to work,” and then there’s “getting back to normal.”
There’s hope we’re seeing signs of the first as we near the point we can emerge from the stay-home, social-distancing orders that were necessary to confront the coronavirus pandemic. But the second is likely to take much longer as we face disquieting changes in our daily lives.
Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimate that Washington state could begin easing its stay-home orders around May 18, allowing for more businesses to reopen and a resumption of activity for state and local economies that have been laid low by the pandemic.
Even before that date, Boeing announced last week that production of its jets would resume and 27,000 employees would return — with extra precautions taken — at its Everett and other Puget Sound-region facilities this week, following a March 25 shutdown.
But the economic impacts dealt to families, local businesses and local governments aren’t likely to lift nearly as soon.
If you had any doubt that state and local government officials were just as eager as business owners to see retail stores and providers welcome back customers and manufacturers resume production, remember where they get much of their revenue to support the services and programs we expect.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed about $235 million in state spending, approved just weeks before by the state Legislature, to offset expected losses in revenue.
Snohomish County is considering a hiring freeze and other budget cuts to address an expected $26 million revenue shortfall.
Now, the City of Everett is preparing similar cuts that will be considered Wednesday by the City Council. This is far more than belt-tightening, and the cuts are likely to remain in place not just for 2020, but for 2021 as well.
In an interview with The Herald Editorial Board last week, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said she would be asking the council to approve supplemental budget reductions for 2020, cuts that will continue into 2021. The city is expecting to lose about $14.1 million in revenue this year and another $6.4 million in 2021, because of the closures and economic losses forced by the pandemic. And those losses are on top of a $12 million structural deficit the city already was working to close.
Those estimates are weighted averages of three scenarios — best case to worst — regarding the economic recession that the state and nation could face from the pandemic, meaning the numbers can and likely will change over time.
Everett gets about 36 percent of its revenue from the sales tax and the business and operation tax. Both taxes are especially vulnerable to economic downturns. And Everett, one of a few municipalities to levy a B&O tax, relies on the health of Boeing and the aerospace industry.
The city administration is advising the council approve cuts of nearly $2.5 million to the 2020 budget; those cuts would total about $6.7 million in the 2021 budget.
Except for the city’s public safety employees, every other department will see either layoffs, voluntary separations or vacant and seasonal positions left unfilled, totaling 60 positions in city government. Among the departments with the heaviest staff and other budget cuts are the city’s parks and recreation departments, library, arts programs, office of neighborhoods, senior center, legal and the mayor’s office.
The cuts will continue some facility closures — already in place because of social distancing — though this year and next, including at the Carl Gipson Senior Center and the Forest Park swim center, Franklin said.
At last week’s council meeting — held by video conference — as administration staff continued to work on a budget proposal, Deputy Mayor Nick Harper signaled that the cuts would go deep and would be hard to accept.
“We’re not asking that council embrace these reductions, because as an administration, as a city, we’re certainly not embracing these reductions,” Harper said. “But I think they are reductions that are necessary and responsible in order for our community to come out of this crisis resilient and financially strong and stable.”
As painful as the cuts are for the city to make, Franklin said, they cannot be avoided if the city is to continue its most basic level of services, including for public safety and for economic recovery.
One bit of good news regarding recovery, the city is preparing to implement $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grants, about half of which will be used to help small businesses in the city, with the rest going to nonprofits that are working to support community aid programs.
Franklin acknowledged that the level of services, programs and events that will suffer cuts now through 2021 will be upsetting to many residents.
“This will be drastically reduced from what the community is used to,” she said.
But the cuts are necessary to position the city to be prepared and available to help rebuild the local economy and make future decisions about what services Everett residents want the city to offer in the future and how those will be funded.
In getting back to work, Everett can start getting back to normal.