ST. GEORGE — Three weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, St. George Mayor Jon Pike is remaining optimistic and said that despite many closures, the city’s economic health is in good shape.
In an interview with St. George News, Pike reminded people that Zion National Park was closed to send a message to people everywhere to stay at home and not come to Southern Utah.
“We don’t want people to come here to vacation right now,” Pike said. “It’s just not the right time. We are sad to see this happen but glad the decision was made to close the park. For now, anyone on Interstate 15 heading to St. George please turn around and go back home.”
Capitol Reef National Park remains the last of Utah’s five national parks still open, but its scenic drive and campgrounds are closed. In addition to Zion, Arches, Bryce and Canyonlands national parks are already closed at the request from local governments and health officials.
“We need to take the precautions we think we need to minimize the impact of this virus on our residents with a community that is probably 20% over 65 years old,” Pike said. “We need to be careful.”
Pike urged the community to follow national recommendations to limit public gatherings to no more than 10 and to only spend time near immediate family.
“We want to nip this in the bud as soon as possible,” he said.
Despite the loss in tourist revenue, financially, the city can weather the storm for now through what many other states call a “rainy day fund,” Pike said.
Revenue savings are accomplished through various mechanisms, including a general fund balance “savings account,” a capital project fund targeted for large infrastructure improvements and an economic development fund.
Looking forward, Pike said, the economic health of St. George is stable.
“We are in a very strong position,” he said. “We were before this started, and we will continue to be.”
To ensure fiscal stability, the city is working with department leadership to revamp the current budget, which ends June 30.
“We’ve pushed pause on some projects,” Pike said. “We have also stopped hiring with some new positions unless they are critical to replace. ”
The city has also modified the draft budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
In the thick of crafting next year’s budget, Pike added, city administration has asked each department to reflect on their needs over their wants to reduce spending needs by about 20% across the board, including a moratorium on payroll increases.
For now, no layoffs are anticipated.
“Going forward, we will be okay,” Pike said. “Layoffs are our last option. We do everything we can first before doing this.”
City priorities must be met, he said, including staffing public safety, sewer, power and water departments.
“Our people will be the last to go because we need them and the community needs them to provide those services,” Pike said.
Thinking outside of the box, city departments are “incredibly” responsible, Pike said.
“All of the departments have taken a very close look at their budgets. We are serious about eliminating things that don’t have to be done,” he said.
He added that everyone is working to be fiscally prudent.
Pike said a preliminary budget will be presented to the city council in May with a public hearing scheduled in June before a vote to adopt or reject the budget is held on June 18.
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