Opinion: Commentary: FY 2021 – The COVID-19 Budget

Opinion: Commentary: FY 2021 – The COVID-19 Budget

This is not the budget any of us were hoping to approve this year.

Tuesday, the Board adopted the County Executive's amended FY 2021 Budget proposal. While this is not the budget any of us were hoping to approve this year, it is necessary as we pivot to address the needs created by COVID-19. This budget includes no tax rate increases, even as our expenses climb dramatically and our revenues fall, similarly. The Board will be reviewing the budget quarterly to closely monitor these factors and the impacts of the pandemic.

Six months ago, we were confident that our economy and community would continue to grow and prosper. Now, we are monitoring the situation closely, recognizing that these confidences are at risk and cannot be taken for granted. Many of our families and small businesses are acutely aware and concerned about this and are looking for our help and support. While business support must start with each of us buying local, the Board has created new microloans and grant opportunities as well. COVID-19 recovery is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. This budget is designed to pace us and gives us the flexibility to address circumstances as they arise.

We recognize the significant impact the pandemic is having on County employees, as they adjust to new working conditions and new ways to serve the community. This has been a particularly difficult budget season for financial staff working hard to develop not just one, but two budgets this year. Through it all, they are adapting and persevering. Thank you!

Our low to moderate income communities are also deeply impacted, due to the jobs they hold and the likelihood that there are more residents per household, increasing the risk to these families. Our health is truly at risk and a key part of this funding package provides for more services and support for our health department.

Schools will always be my priority. I recognize they are having a tough year and will need to make adjustments just as the County has done. This school year will go in the record books, and not for the reasons we would like. However, this does provide an opportunity to practice the three key student goals that we had when I was on the School Board. These are academics, developing essential life skills and responsibility to the community. Resilience and flexibility seem to be especially important life skills now!

Interestingly, we are seeing positive environmental impacts as a result of the slowdown in our economy. While this is good for the planet, we need to invest in ways to lower our carbon footprint without shutting down the economy. We have a responsibility to find the balance between growing our economy and keeping our world healthy. Future budget investments here will bring great returns.

While it is not in the budget, I need to mention 2020 is the Year of the Woman and the 100th Anniversary of women's right to vote. It is with a heavy heart that I recognize we will not be able to support additional funds for the Suffragist Memorial at this time, but I am hopeful this is an adjustment we will be able to make later this year.

I know many residents are upset about the cancellation of yard waste services. I advocated for and have been advised these services should be restored in May. In addition, those serviced by County waste management will receive a $15 credit, with a commitment to keeping rates lower in the future.

We have much more work to do and this is not the end of this conversation. Going forward our Board and Budget Committee will need more regular reporting and meetings to consider the changing impacts and adjust budgets. Bringing our economy roaring back, will have a positive impact not only on schools, budgets and our health, but also on jobs, wages and communities overall. I look forward to having these conversations with you as we continue to address the many challenges COVID-19 has brought to our lives.