By Bob Hembree
Lake Powell Chronicle
PAGE – Page, like thousands of cities in the U.S. rely on sales tax revenue to function. City administrators knew it was coming and held off as long as they could before sending 27 employees to the unemployment lines.
“We could see the handwriting on the wall four weeks ago,” City Manager Darren Coldwell said. “It was a tough decision.”
Page isn’t alone. In a recent A National League of Cities and United States Conference of Mayors survey from over 2,400 local officials, 96% reported shortfalls as the result of unanticipated revenue declines. Cities are making cuts or preparing to – some more drastically than others.
Over half of all cities report that cuts will impact police and public safety. Those hit hardest rely primarily on revenue from sales taxes to provide city services. Page, like many cities, does not collect property taxes.
Coldwell said from past experience, it’s best to trim departments evenly and fairly, so asked department heads to decide where to cut and prioritize services to maintain until the city’s revenues get back on track. He said, making cuts in this fashion makes it easier to get back up and running again. The only department not affected was public safety, which includes police, fire and emergency medical services. They are already stretched because positions are difficult to fill.
Page Public Works, with 17 on staff, is now operating with 15 employees. The golf course, which has remained highly profitable during the pandemic, cut one employee from each of its three departments: the clubhouse, restaurant and maintenance.
The recreation center laid off one person, and it continues to provide meals for seniors. Horseshoe Bend closed the fee booths out of concern for employee safety. It remains open and it’s free to the public.
Police will continue to patrol, and public works will continue upkeep for HSB. Some employees were moved to the library; it will remain open with limited hours. Free Wi-Fi is available from the parking lot. No password is needed.
Coldwell noted that HSB traffic slowed to around 30 vehicles per day. He also said the city had to postpone hiring several part time employees.
The city is doing what they can for the newly unemployed workers. Rachell French, the human resource/risk manager for the City of Page, told the Chronicle she gave all those affected her personal cell number. She is available to help them with issues like unemployment benefits, Cobra plans for health insurance and continuing life insurance policies. Employees will receive pay for any accumulated vacation time and comp time and sick leave are banked for when they return to work.
Coldwell plans to bring employees back gradually as the city’s finances improve.
When asked about federal help for cities, Coldwell said he would rather see it go to struggling local businesses and citizens who have lost their jobs. Referring to the local economy’s impact on city services.
He said, “It will come around to us.”
Stimulus money for individuals will help some local business more than others, especially for large ticket items. Money spent locally helps the community, the economy, and helps the city maintain services.