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How COVID-19 is impacting the city of Cumming's finances

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The COVID-19 outbreak has brought financial stress for individuals and businesses, but even local governments are feeling the pinch from the slowed economy.

City Administrator Phil Higgins said he and other city of Cumming officials won't know the true impact the coronavirus response will have on the city's finances until later this year and said people returning to work wouldn't end those issues overnight.

“All we can do now is project out how we are going to finish the year,” Higgins said. “Until things get back to somewhat a sense of normalcy, we don't know how that's going to happen, because even when things open back up, I don't see a rush of people coming back in right away.”

In response to the pandemic, city officials stopped parks and recreation programs, closed city buildings and live-streamed meetings to lessen the chance of spreading the coronavirus.

Higgins said he doesn't see people immediately going back to crowded events or classes, which could impact amenities like parks and recreation facilities, the Cumming Fairgrounds and the city's aquatic center, which are already seeing a drop in revenues.

“In the general fund, that's really important," Higgins said, "because we rely on that revenue as well as the sales tax dollars to fund those departments. And, of course, sales taxes are going to be down also because people just aren't going out and spending money.”

He added that the main thing he was hoping was that “everything's back normal by the time for the [Cumming Country Fair & Festival].”

In December, the Cumming City Council approved a balanced budget of $14.2 million. The city’s highest expenditures for 2020 were expected to be $2.5 million for the police department, $2 million for parks and recreation and $1.9 million for streets. The biggest revenue generators were $7.7 million from administrative sources, about $1.7 million from the city’s aquatic center and $1.6 million from the fairgrounds

With less money coming in, some projects are being moved around but Higgins said they were “nothing of great significance, just smaller stuff.”

Higgins said that means things like road projects will go ahead while smaller needs, like resurfacing the fairground's parking lot or purchasing new equipment, might be put off.

“Bigger projects are still going to go on as usual," Higgins said, "but smaller things we might look at putting off to another year.”

While there has been a loss in projected revenue, Higgins said the city has seen some savings from lower utility use, labor costs and contracts, such as having city employees clean buildings rather than an outside service. The city hasn't had to tap into its reserve funds, Higgins said, and no employees have been let go.

“We froze hiring during this for the main reason that we can't get people in to interview, do the background process and all that," Higgins said. "It's not convenient to do that, but as far as positions that are open, we'll still hire them after this ends and we get back to normal. We're not looking at any kind of reduction in force or anything like that at this time.”

Overall, Higgins said he is optimistic that whatever ends up happening, the city has put itself in a good position for when recovery starts.

“The city of Cumming, we're really positive about getting through this, and we think we're going to come out stronger than ever on the other side,” he said. “Any shortfalls that we have in funds this year, we'll find a way to get through, and we'll keep providing the same level of service that we've always provided to the community.”