‘This is the biggest issue of the day’; St. George prepares to present 2020-21 budget in midst of pandemic

St. George Mayor Jon Pike, St. George, Utah. July 2019 | Photo by Frank Forza, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As St. George moves through trying times, Mayor Jon Pike will connect with the community through a once a month sit down with St. George News.

Resilience is the word, now and in the future, Pike said.

“Right now, COVID-19 is the 1,800-pound gorilla in the room and taking up a lot of our time, as it should,” Pike said. “We are learning a lot and respond in every way we can.”

Although there are many unknowns with the virus, Pike added, the city will evaluate its response to changes that are coming almost on a daily basis.

“This is a budget season for St. George,” Pike said. “The next fiscal year starts July 1. … But on the first Thursday in June, we have the first public hearing on the budget where people can come and ask questions and provide input.”

With it being such a fluid situation during the pandemic, it’s unclear if the city council will hold live meetings or continue broadcasting them on the internet through Zoom.

“Even if we are not holding live meetings, we want to make sure the public can participate,” Pike said. “We want to share the information through Zoom or maybe live but limiting the number of people in the room.”

St. George Mayor Jon Pike kicked off the inaugural bike ride during a two-day demonstration project to evaluate a protected bicycle lane on South Main Street. St. George, Utah, Oct. 22, 2019 | Photo by David Louis St. George News

If needed, community members could attend the meeting live while sequestered in small groups in the council chamber, executive conference room and in the city hall lobby before being invited to address council members regarding the budget.

The budget is anticipated to be presented this month.

Pike said while work on the budget has progressed for the past six months, and has undergone “significant” changes because of COVID-19, he anticipates sales tax revenues, gas tax revenues and other revenue streams to be lower than first anticipated.

“It’s going to be an (impact) as long as the virus is a factor in our lives,” Pike said. “Because taxes are collected at the point of sale and by the time we get them from the state it’s usually a two to three month lag time.”

The delay places all municipalities, including St. George, between a rock and a hard place trying to accurately anticipate what actual revenue to expect in order to pay its next fiscal year bills.

“This is the biggest issue of the day,” Pike said.

As a precaution to bolster the 2020-21 budget, at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak city officials began asking departments to adjust the current fiscal year spending to carry forward savings if required to fund future needs.

“Let’s do things now to put us in a better position in the future,” Pike said. “We have made adjustments, and, like everyone else, we’ve had to deal with the financial ramifications of COVID-19.”

The eternal optimist, Pike says he believes St. George will be okay.

“The good news is we have a strong fund balance,” he said. “We have strong savings accounts … and are in excellent financial shape, and we will be able to weather this storm.”

The key is to remain fiscally prudent while maintaining services that the community relays upon, he added.

Personally, although the past few months have been hard, there has been a silver lining to COVID-19, Pike said.

“One of the things that my wife, Kristy, and I have done is to take a walk almost every night, and we have dinner together,” Pike said. “We have a high school-age daughter and a son and his wife, newlyweds, that when the stay-at-home directive happened moved in with us.”

Being close with the family has been a blessing, Pike said.

“It’s been a nice time for the five of us to be together,” he said. “This has been kind of our salvation to be together, get outside on a trail, or on a walk while maintaining social distancing with others to have a great outlet and breath fresh air on our trail system.”

Along with playing in the yard and doing family activities like making meals together, Pike said, this calamity has given people a wakeup call to return to values that have been forgotten in the age of ignoring each other while fixated on electronics.

“This really is a return to times past when you spent a lot of time at home with our family,” Pike added.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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