Longview will receive $3.5 million for the city’s transit system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money will have no impact on Longview’s projected $5 million budget gap caused by virus-related revenue losses, but the city has some good news to share about that now, too, City Manager Kurt Sacha said Thursday.
RiverCities Transit can use the funds to sanitize buses, make modifications for social distancing, purchase personal protective equipment for drivers and other staff and pay for salaries of people on administrative leave.
“That will go a long ways towards helping (RiverCities) stand up during the pandemic,” Sacha said. “Like many other government systems, they were heavily reliant on sales tax. Obviously they, too, will see a significant reduction in their revenue stream from sales tax. This will certainly help them replace lost dollars but also help to implement some of those safety guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.”
The bus system is vital for people in the community who have difficulty getting to work, medical appointments, grocery stores and other important needs, Sacha said.
RiverCities provided 450 to 650 rides a day in the first half of April, for a total of 5,713 rides through April 15, according to the transit service.
Sacha said he was particularly grateful for the support in Washington, D.C., from Southwest Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, but also from U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.
“Easily accessible transit is a lifeline for folks in Longview and Kelso, but it needs to be done in a manner that prioritizes safety and public health,” Herrera Beutler said in a press release. “I was pleased to help secure this funding to enhance the safety for seniors, workers and others who continue to rely on public transportation.”
However, the grant does not alleviate the city’s budget concerns. Earlier this month, Sacha projected a $4 million shortfall in city revenue due primarily to estimated decreases in tax revenue related to business closures.
In addition, the city was expected to spend about $1 million more than its budgeted revenue before the pandemic. So the loss of revenue due to the virus actually leaves a $5 million gap between projected 2020 revenue and expenditures.
Sacha said he planned to tell the Longview City Council during a workshop Thursday night that he has managed to narrow that gap to $2.5 million by reducing spending and finding ways to use $1.14 million allocated to the city in federal funding.
He said he will recommend the council wait another two months to see the impact of the stay-home order. At that time, the city will have sales tax reports from March and April when statewide closures went into effect.
“I think those two months particularly will be telling to see just how dramatic of an impact that order may have had on our retailers,” Sacha said.
The “wild card,” he said, is how quickly the area will recover after reopening.
“I definitely see with retailers opening up again — and restaurants, salons and clothing stores — that certainly our economy will begin to pick up and begin to revive itself,” he said, “but how quickly that may happen is yet to be determined. We still have a significant number of individuals unemployed.”
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