Record editorial: The boom times are over, and Summit County and Park City must tighten their belts
Summit County businesses and their workers aren’t the only ones suffering from the economic upheaval brought on by the coronavirus.
The pandemic is also hammering the budgets of the Park City and Summit County governments. After a boom period over the last decade that saw the community emerge from the Great Recession and local government coffers swell, the high times are over, at least for now, brought to an abrupt end by a crisis that no one saw coming.
At the Marsac Building, staffers at this point are expecting a budget shortfall of approximately $8.6 million in the fiscal year beginning in July, spurred largely by a projected 36% decline in sales tax revenue. The County Courthouse, meanwhile, has slashed $5 million from its 2020 budget, freezing merit raises for employees and delaying some construction projects, among other moves.
Much about the situation remains unknown, but both governments will be on shaky fiscal footing until the pandemic is behind us. It’s a challenge made even greater by how suddenly everything changed. In contrast to most downturns, which bottom out gradually, this crisis came almost overnight, leaving local leaders in an entirely reactionary position.
Just as businesses have had to make difficult decisions about their operations, and households have cut expenses to make ends meet, city and county officials are faced with confronting the new economic reality in the coming months.
For starters, there will be little money left over for unnecessary expenditures. Even projects years in the making like the prized arts and culture district planned for Bonanza Park will need to be reconsidered in some fashion, or perhaps delayed if City Hall’s fiscal situation warrants it.
The bleak reality is that maintaining service levels in some non-essential areas will also be difficult. Staffing cuts will hopefully be a last resort, but both Park City and Summit County should be prepared to make them if needed.
City Hall faces a particularly daunting task, as staffers and elected officials must craft a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year over the next few months amid a still-uncertain economic situation. Officials are considering approving a provisional budget that will give them the flexibility to revisit it and make changes as the impacts of the pandemic become more clear.
Summit County, meanwhile, has the luxury, such as it is, of waiting a little while longer to begin building its next budget, as its fiscal year ends Dec. 31. The landscape at that time will still be difficult but perhaps there will be more clarity about the future.
After an economic surge that lasted more than a decade, an eventual slide was inevitable. It’s unfortunate that City Hall and the County Courthouse are facing it sooner than anyone anticipated, but the community is relying on them to navigate these lean times well enough that they can maintain key services and emerge in a position of strength when the crisis is over.
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