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June 2, 2020

Financial Impacts of Pandemic Trigger County Budget Cuts; Mayor Wilson Outlines Two-Year Recovery Plan

Chloe Morroni - Email


No layoffs planned; swift, early actions to cut and redirect discretionary spending to coronavirus response helped limit County’s revenue losses


Salt Lake County, UT - Plunging revenues and unplanned expenses caused by the COVID-19 crisis will require Salt Lake County to cut $77 million from current-year agency budgets and adhere to bare-bones spending plans to maintain core services and avoid layoffs, Mayor Jenny Wilson announced Tuesday.

Deputy Mayor Darrin Casper, The County’s Chief Financial Officer, estimates losses in the range of $70 to $96 million in tax and operating revenue this fiscal year due to the ongoing pandemic. While revenues will increase as the economy reopens, the recovery will be gradual and cannot replace the tens of millions of dollars of revenue lost since the crisis began. At the same time, the County must continue to provide critical services and pay fixed costs.

“Like every other government agency in Utah and across the nation, Salt Lake County faces unexpected and difficult decisions about how to best serve the public with significantly less revenue,” Mayor Wilson said. “It won’t be easy. We have a huge budget hole to fill, while continuing to provide residents with the quality programs they expect and preparing for whatever might come next.”

Key points at a glance

  • $70-$96 million estimated decline in County revenues

  • $77 million in budget cuts proposed in response

  • Reductions vary across agencies, from 3% to 10%

  • Frugal two-year financial plan positions County for slow recovery

  • Rapid action by County staff to freeze and redeploy discretionary spending helped temper revenue losses

  • Federal CARES Act funding expected to help County and local communities recover

Mayor Wilson noted that County officials began freezing discretionary spending and instituted a hiring freeze early in the crisis to free up resources for a major public health response. “Without quick thinking by County staff early on, our financial situation would be even more challenging,” she said. “I’m grateful to all County employees for their dedication and professionalism during this trying time, and I’m committed to doing all I can to prevent layoffs.”

Casper detailed the proposed budget adjustments and financial recovery plan during Tuesday’s Salt Lake County Council meeting. While proposed changes have been crafted to cause the least impact to the fewest number of residents as possible, cutting nearly $80 million from the County’s budget will not be easy. In addition to already-made cuts to discretionary spending, the plan calls for drawing down “rainy day” funds, delaying capital projects, and not filling vacant staff positions. Proposed budget reductions for County departments and elected officials’ offices range from 3% to 10%. Mayor Wilson said, “I want to thank our departments and elected officials who have done the difficult work with their own operations, understanding the reality of this crisis.”

The County has received financial support from the federal CARES Act which provides funding for the most direct impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. However, the CARES Act funding may not be used to offset revenue loss. With its CARES Act Appropriation of $203 Million, Salt Lake County is supporting local governments within the boundary through a $34 million dollar appropriation from CARES Act funds. Thus, both the County and its municipalities will have their direct COVID-19 costs fighting the disease covered. This includes items of expense related to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation centers, the purchase of personal protective equipment, running the emergency coordination center, and grants to cities and impacted businesses.