Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, April 7 @ 4:16 p.m. / Business, Emergencies, Health, Local Government
Crescent City Struggling Financially Through COVID-19 Crisis Even As It Continues to Support Businesses
The Del Norte community has lost an estimated $1 million in revenue as local businesses struggle to stay afloat amid social distancing requirements due to COVID-19.
Of 111 businesses that have taken a business injury survey through the Del Norte Office of Emergency Services, about 70 percent need help, said Holly Wendt, Crescent City’s recreation director. Fifty-eight percent have temporarily stopped operations while two have permanently closed their doors due to the crisis, she said.
Wendt, who, along with City Manager Eric Wier, is part of an Economic Resiliency Task Force through the Del Norte Emergency Operations Center, said most business owners who took the survey need help with cash flow, unemployment issues and applying for loans.
The economic injury survey is set to close this evening, Wendt told Councilors. But support will continue, with consultants Rob Holmlund and Chuck Wolfe helping businesses navigate state, federal and local programs designed to get them through the emergency.
“Through conversations I’m having with business owners is there are so many moving parts and so many things that are uncertain, whether it’s knowing how to navigate it and what paperwork do they need,” Wendt said. “It’s overwhelming.”
At Wier’s request, four City Councilors authorized an additional $20,000 to continue to use two consultants’ expertise to support local employers. Councilor Alex Fallman was absent.
Wier’s ask comes after the Council at a special meeting March 27 approved a $15,000 contract with Holmlund and a $10,000 contract with Wolfe.
The initial $25,000 to hire the two consultants came from dollars generated through the city’s Community Development Block Grant-funded programs. On Monday, Wier told the Council that the $20,000 they authorized to continue to work with Holmlund and Wolfe will come from the general fund’s reserve.
The City Council at its March 16 meeting had also authorized an expenditure of $25,000 for computers that would allow as many employees to work from home as possible. However, Wier said Monday, that cost estimate came in to between $27,000 and $28,000.
Wier noted that as local businesses are struggling to weather the economic storm COVID-19 brewed, the pandemic is also taxing Crescent City financially.
“The city’s general fund is comprised of two main sources. That’s TOT and sales tax,” he said, referring to the transient occupancy tax visitors staying at local lodging facilities incur that help pay for city services. “We’re not getting TOT at this point. We’ve had to shut that down because of the health emergency. The other one is sales tax, as part of trying to help small businesses out, the governor’s orders are that small businesses can actually defer their sales tax for up to 12 months, which means it’s not going to come to the city.”
Wier said he and Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore sat in on a conference call with state and federal representatives, asking when support will come to cities.
“The city right now is facing a revenue short fall, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Wier said. “We don’t know how it’s all going to play out. We don’t know if it’s going to be given back to us in the form of state or federal funds. We’re looking at expenditures closely. When we make asks for even computers to help our employees stay safe and create social distancing, these asks are not taken lightly.”
Two positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Del Norte County, according to the Public Health Branch. A total of 126 tests have been administered as of 9:29 a.m. Tuesday, of which 119 have come back with negative results and five are pending.
In addition to helping create an Economic Resiliency Task Force and Business Revitalization Loan program, Crescent City closed the Fred Endert Municipal Pool and suspended city-sanctioned events due to the pandemic.
Since the pool could be closed for months, Wier said he and Wendt have discussed the possibility of refunding annual pass holders. There has also been discussion about punch cards for the pool, with Wier suggesting the possibility of making them valid for a two months into 2021 or for them to be refunded if the closure stretches on for longer than a few months.
As for city staff, Wier said public works crews are working split shifts to offer redundancy and maintain social distancing. The Crescent City Police Department is completely segregated.
However, staff is cleaning restrooms twice a day, Wier said.
Wier said the city is also coordinating with the Emergency Operations Center to set up hand washing stations at 3rd and K streets, at Front and K streets and near the Tractor Supply Co. store on M Street.
Members of the public have urged the city to close its parking lots, Wier said. He said Police Chief Richard Griffin and Inscore have monitored the conditions at Howe Drive and near Battery Point Lighthouse.
From our side, at least in this past week, the weather hasn’t been nicest,” he said. “We’re not seeing large groups gathering. What we’re seeing is people sitting in cars, maybe eating their lunch, but still in compliance with social distancing recommendations.”
Some members of the public, particularly former Del Norte County district attorney Jon Alexander, urged the city to be more proactive about closing parking lots. Alexander, who writes the “Angels and Desperados” column for Wild Rivers Outpost, told the City Council that from his home near Battery Point Lighthouse, he can see people with license plates from as far away as Montana who aren’t observing social distancing guidelines.
On Monday, Inscore said after speaking with Alexander on the phone, he conducted visual inspections along Howe Drive and Battery Point to identify how many people were there and where they may be from.
There are still people who park their RVs and vehicles in the area and move to another location to try to skirt the city’s no parking ordinance, Inscore said.
“I think that it’s something we’ve got to monitor,” he said. “I think it’s important we follow the leadership of our public health officer in making those kinds of decisions as opposed to just taking it upon ourselves to close this or that or whatever.”
Loathe to end the discussion on a negative note, Inscore commended Wendt, noting that she while wasn’t hired to be a business liaison, her efforts during a major crisis haven’t gone unnoticed. Inscore also pointed out that most businesses are unable to reopen once they’re forced to close their doors.
“To say that I feel comfortable spending another $25,000 right here, tonight, no,” he said. “Do I feel the necessity to support our business community? I do. We’re playing with a teeter totter here trying to find the balance.”