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Monroe County’s pandemic-driven budget gap shrinks, but remains massive

May 22, 2020

Credit CITY Newspaper/File photo

Monroe County is still facing a huge budget deficit induced by pandemic-related revenue losses, but County Executive Adam Bello said Friday the overall picture is slightly better than it was at the end of April. 

The county now faces a projected deficit of $45.8 million to $81.5 million for this budget year, Bello said during a news conference. On April 30, he told reporters that the county was staring down a potential $68 million to $122 million shortfall in its $1.2 billion budget.

Bello on Friday also laid out $47.6 million in potential savings. Largely, they rely on holding back budgeted spending, including keeping 400 vacant positions unfilled and delaying plans to purchase vehicles, upgrade technology, and investment in facilities.

In addition, Bello said, the county would also be able to reduce its subsidy to Monroe Community Hospital by $2.5 million due to federal COVID-19 relief funds it received.

“We are not taking this situation lightly and have already initiated these reductions and cost savings as we prepare for the worst but continue to hope for the best,” Bello said.

Layoffs of county employees are not currently on the table, he said.

The spending freezes will impact all parts of county government, he said. In practical terms, residents will feel the impact through delays in paperwork processing, application reviews, and pothole or parks facility repairs. 

Officials adjusted their projections based on the county sales tax receipts for April, which weren’t available until halfway through May. The state Comptroller’s Office has reported that sales tax collections were down more than 24 percent in April statewide. Monroe County collected $29.1 million in sales tax revenue, a 25 percent decrease compared to April 2019. 

However, because the county had a strong first quarter for sales tax revenue, it is currently only 1.4 percent behind where it was at this point last year, according to officials.

As of right now, the county expects its sales tax revenue for 2020 to come up short by between $12.8 million and $22.5 million. Previously, officials anticipated a $35 million to $60 million shortfall in sales tax receipts, which were projected at $158 million.

Bello expressed hope that as the region progresses through phases of reopening that sales tax revenues will rebound to some degree, but acknowledged that if they don’t the county will have to find additional savings.

Officials will receive the next round of county sales tax receipts in mid June. 

Bello also repeated his call for the federal government to provide direct aid to state, county, and municipal governments to help make up for revenue losses. He also said that allowing counties the flexibility to use previously-provided COVID-19 relief funds to cover those losses would be a great help. Monroe County received $129 million through the federal CARES Act.

The Bello administration still projects that the county stands to see a $20 million to $40 million state aid shortfall; the 2020 budget anticipated $195.6 million from Albany. Whether that gap materializes, or whether the state has to cut aid even more depends on what Congress does in the coming weeks, Bello said.

But for now, county officials are proceeding as if that additional funding would not be available.

“Relying on hope and counting on those funds would be irresponsible,” Bello said.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.