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COVID-19 Puts Recommendations From Bello’s Transition Report on Hold

Patti Singer

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello in a Zoom news conference May 22, 2020, about the county budget. The sign language interpreter is at left. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

On February 11, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello accepted a report from his transition team that identified critical issues that needed to be addressed.

That was one month to the day before Monroe County announced its first case of COVID-19.

Since then, county government has been focused on two things: protecting public health and protecting taxpayers from the potentially devastating economic effects of the actual COVID-19 response and the ripple effect of having businesses closed for an untold length of time.

As a result, investments in programs such as Early Intervention, in better coordination of social service delivery and in creating new ways to combat opioid addiction are on hold.

“Creating additional programs is not an option,” Bello said May 22 as he outlined a plan to save about $47 million from the current budget.

The transition report also called, among other things, for a chief diversity office, efforts to attract and retain college students, create a land bank to address zombie homes, and racial-equity impact asssessments of policies and practices. At the time, Bello said he would use the approximately 200 recommendations as a guide.

COVID-19 has pre-empted those recommendations.

With the loss in sale tax and other revenue from having businesses closed since late March, Bello knew he’d have to make some fiscal moves. He initially projected a deficit between $68 million and $122 million. But as data on revenues has been updated and with the county beginning to reopen, Bello revised the projected deficit to be between $46 million and $85 million.

“It’s less bad, but it’s still not great,” Bello said.

He said the finance team has been working for the past month on ways to decrease spending without affecting critical services.

“We are the level of government that provides resources (for) individuals who might be most impacted by COVID-19,” he said.

Still, residents can expect to see the effects of the cuts: longer lines for service when county facilities reopen; broken park benches that aren’t fixed as quickly; potholes not filled as fast.

Bello already instituted some of the projected savings he outlined on May 22:

  • $19.5 million from a temporary non-essential hiring freeze and an essential hiring delay on more than 400 vacant positions;
  • $12.6 million in midyear budget reductions by all departments;
  • $10 million in cash capital savings;
  • $1 million in existing budget reserves;
  • $2 million in solid waste subsidy from the general fund;
  • $2.5 million in subsidy from the general fund to Monroe Community Hospital.

Bello said the county still is waiting to learn whether the federal government will deliver more aid or allow money from the CARES Act to be used to cover revenue shortfalls. CARES Act funds now can be used only for expenses directly related to the COVID-19 response.

Bello said deficit projections and budget actions could change n the middle of each month as the county receives data on sales tax revenue from the previous month. At this point, he said he was not considering a raise in property taxes, and layoffs were not part of the current plan.