NEWBURYPORT — Mayor Donna Holaday predicted Tuesday the coronavirus pandemic will have a significant impact on city revenue, though the extent remains uncertain.
“It’s a very difficult time for cities at this point trying to get through the surge and the crisis, and the physical health of the communities,” Holaday said. “This could cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, or maybe more as we get into summer. Who knows how long this is going to last?”
COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and has led to a state of emergency declaration by Gov. Charlie Baker and the declaration of a national emergency by President Donald Trump.
The pandemic has resulted in the temporary closure of City Hall and local businesses, while also costing many people their jobs and halting public gatherings.
Since then, Holaday said local restaurants have asked that their meals tax and hotel tax be waived, but “I don’t know what’s going to happen with that.”
Holaday noted during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon that tax bills go out May 1 and the city is going to try to be “as compassionate as we possibly can” in giving extensions to those struggling to pay their bills because of the COVID-19 shutdown of businesses and schools.
Without the tourism that drives the city’s economy, Holaday noted the shutdowns will leave the city with a large decrease in its paid parking revenue, garage parking fees and other revenue sources.
“We don’t even have parking enforcement officers out,” she said. “Some are older and we’re reassigning them to do other things that come up.”
When asked whether this year’s Yankee Homecoming celebration could possibly be canceled or postponed, Holaday said she was unsure.
She cited predictions that the pandemic could begin to subside in July, but also expressed concern that issues could pick back up in the fall, further stretching the impact on the city.
“That’s a pretty scary statement,” Holaday said. “It could impact whether or not people are going to feel comfortable going out. It’s hard to know how this recovery is going to go. It’s so unprecedented, we just don’t know.”
Holaday reflected on the changes that have occurred since Baker filed the state budget in January, when the city had much higher financial hopes for fiscal 2020.
“We were in a very different position in the state,” she said. “The economy was great, revenues were strong, and we were looking forward to increases in local aid this year. Now, we’re wondering how far it’s going to be cut.”
Holaday said spending has been frozen for the city and its schools, only allowing expenditures for essentials while also freezing hiring.
“We’re just tightening spending everywhere that we possibly can at this point,” Holaday said. “We’re taking it hour by hour.”