As mayor, I wanted to provide you with a status update with regard to the Covid-19 virus. I know all of you have been tracking progress of the virus, monitoring actions taken by the federal government to respond to the effects of the pandemic, and have been adhering to the requirements identified in the Governor’s Stay at Home order.

This has, and continues to be, difficult for all of us. Many of you are unemployed or furloughed, many businesses are closed or partially closed by order of the state, and perhaps most importantly, some of you have felt the effects of the virus itself within your network of family and friends. 

This past week, many citizens began receiving their stimulus check that the federal government is depositing in bank accounts. If you have not seen this check deposited in your account, I encourage you to go to the IRS website where there is a tool where you can obtain status information. Also, through the Federal Cares Act, grants provided to small business to pay their payroll, utilities, and rent/mortgage interest for 2 months began to occur. The funding for this program was quickly allocated and therefore some small businesses have not yet received this grant. However, I anticipate congress will allocate additional funds for this program through legislation this week. Let’s hope this week proves this and the remaining small businesses in our community secure this much needed funding. Neither of these programs, the stimulus checks or the small business grants, are meant to be a long-term, ongoing program, but rather a bridge until we can get to a reopening plan for our state and country. 

The economic downturn that was caused by the reduction in jobs and reduction in income due to the Stay at Home order will also affect the city as a governing entity, although the timing is a little different than that of a business or individual. Since taxes such as sales tax, lodging tax, and gas tax are collected a month out from their actual payment by customers, the city has not yet seen the actual effects of the partial closure of our economy to our municipal budget. We will begin to see the magnitude of that effect towards the end of this month, when we see the actual collections for the month of March, which was partially affected by closures. We believe that in addition to many citizens being out of work and many businesses closed, the near shuttering of tourism related spending will cause these revenue streams to see material reductions. We, like you, are unsure of the eventual length of the Stay at Home order, or the effect the pandemic will have on our economy even after it is lifted. But we believe that even in the best case scenario, the city will not meet our original budgeted revenue dollars for the remaining months of this fiscal year. Therefore, the eventual lifting of the Stay at Home order will only have the effect of determining the severity of these shortfalls over the course of this fiscal year. As a result, we have directed staff to reduce operational expenditures and capital purchases where possible. We are analyzing all of our forecasted capital projects and delaying any we can until we see a better picture of our future revenue streams. 

These efforts are designed to not materially affect the essential operational activities of the city and to maintain the quality of life that our community has come to expect. Police and re protection, essential administrative and maintenance functions, and regular sanitation collections continue as normal. 

Interactions with the public via the phone, online, and in person at the city hall lobby remain in effect. One temporary change initiated in sanitation affects our recycling program. That program is a much more hands-on activity and therefore posed a risk for viral transmission. Also, our upstream recycling partner is in Pensacola, which required crossing state lines to continue the program. As a result, recycling was put on hold until we get ourselves through the current environment. 

Moving forward, we will continue to provide input to both our federal and state governments, and monitor their actions over time. Gov. Ivey’s Stay at Home order is currently in effect until April 30th. The governor recently put in place a committee to review steps to re-open our economy and she has received a report from that committee which provides her with their input and guidance. We anticipate that the governor will take measured steps in any reopening scenario. As a municipality, we stand ready to implement any steps the state determines necessary, and to work with our businesses and citizens to create an orderly and safe transition back to a fully-opened economy when that time comes. Although some city functions are currently closed, such as our library, senior center, Kids Park, and recreational youth programs, other facilities such as Graham Creek Preserve, our dog park, other municipal parks, farmers market, and our rose trail remain open. 

We will continue to focus on the things that provide us the quality of life that we all expect. As we do initiate the reopening of city facilities and programs, we will initiate a plan that takes into account the same type of safety-related data (capacity, social distancing, and personal protection protocols) that the governor’s committee considered in creating their own recommendations to the state. These are trying times. We will get through this together through our shared commitment to one another and come out the other side a stronger community than ever before!