Brownwood council hears report on how COVID-19 might impact city’s budget

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Lunchtime diners filled many of the drive-in stalls at the Sonic restaurant on West Commerce in Brownwood Tuesday. Brownwood city officials won’t know until mid-May how much the COVID-19 crisis will impact sales tax revenue the city receives from businesses including Sonic. [Photo by Steve Nash]

Meeting from individual locations by Zoom videoconferencing, Brownwood City Council members took up several COVID-19-related matters Tuesday morning including a report on how the crisis may impact the city’s budget.

Before hearing a report on dollars, council members heard an update from Brownwood-Brown County Health Administrator Lisa Dick, who mirrored information released late Monday afternoon by the city: 157 tested, 11 positive, five recovered, one death, 132 negative and 14 pending.

Dick said the Health Department staff continues to work on answering questions from the community, coordinating testing with doctors’ offices and tracing contacts for the those who tested positive.

City Manager Emily Crawford recognized Dick and Public Health Preparedness Coordinator Cliff Karnes. “They are doing incredible work,” Crawford said. “They are working seven days a week and have been for about five or six weeks now. I just wanted to publicly thank them and their entire staff.”

Mayor Stephen Haynes concurred, saying, “we’ve gone through some real uncertain times … we’ve felt like we were ahead of the curve and not behind it as far as information goes.”

City Finance Director Walter Middleton told council members that sales tax revenue will likely be reduced with the closures of restaurants and shortage of some supplies. With monthly allocations lagging two months behind the reporting period, the city won’t know the impact on sales tax revenue until mid-May, Middleton told council members.

Middleton picked two hypothetical numbers to illustrate the potential impact. A 25-percent reduction would mean a reduction in sales tax revenue of $609,000, and a 50-percent reduction would represent a $1.2 million shortfall, Middleton told council members.

Middleton also addressed water revenue, saying it has exceeded projections through six months. Middleton said he expects water revenue to continue to exceed projections and will be a “partial buffer to any potential sales tax shortfall.”

The city has put a hold on major projects such as street resurfacing and water line replacements, but will do maintenance as needed, Middleton told council members.

The city is in “excellent position” in investment reserves, Middleton said. As of March 31 the city’s operating reserves were at $8.15 million, which represents 82 days of operations over three months, Middleton told council members. That’s nearly $1.6 million higher than the same time last year.

“The purpose of these reserves is to provide a buffer during difficult times, and we are very well situated in that regard,” Middleton said. “Even a reduction of 50 percent in our sales tax revenue would not eliminate the overage over last year.”