The Contra Costa County Finance Building in Martinez. (Photo by Samantha Laurey/BCN Foundation)

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Unlike the Internal Revenue Service and state of California, which gave three-month extensions for filing 2019 tax returns due to the novel coronavirus, Bay Area counties have not changed the deadline for the final installment of the current fiscal year’s property tax, due in full April 10. 

But according to the Contra Costa County tax collector’s office, beginning April 11 taxpayers unable to pay on time for reasons related to COVID-19 may request that late fees and penalties be waived. After July 10, taxpayers will be allowed to set up a payment plan if they cannot pay their taxes all at once.

Bay Area municipalities, and the Bay Area counties themselves, receive a significant share of their revenue from property tax allocations. 

“Not only does not having this revenue impact our budget, but all of the 19 cities in Contra Costa, and all of the special districts, rely on us to collect their property taxes,” said Candace Andersen, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. “They need the revenue to meet their operating expenses.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor Candace Andersen.

According to Bob Campbell, county auditor-controller, of the estimated $2.1 billion in property tax billed by Contra Costa County to property owners this fiscal year, about $238 million was allocated to the 19 county municipalities and was included in their financial projections. 

But even having secured their property tax allocation share for the year, public entities will be forced to cut spending if actual collections fall short, or when additional shortfalls materialize in sales tax, fees, fines and other revenue sources.

Citizens are stuck at home. Businesses have shut down, many to never reopen, and private sector workers have been laid off at a startling pace, with unemployment claims for the last week of March nearly four times the state weekly average. 

“The virus will have a significant impact on the city,” said Steve Salomon, Orinda city manager. “We are taking a number of steps to reduce expenditures.”

Salomon said that temporary and part-time employees, mainly in the parks and recreation department, are not working, and the city has no immediate plans to fill three vacant positions. 

Staffing was scheduled for discussion Monday at a special Lafayette City Council meeting, and employee layoffs were on the table, according to Mayor Mike Anderson. “We simply do not have enough work for them,” Anderson said.

The town of Moraga has been working on a staffing plan to be implemented after Tuesday (April 7), the date through which employees will have been paid their full salaries.

Contra Costa County Administrator David Twa said there are no plans in the works to lay off or reduce the hours of nonessential county employees.  

Contra Costa County Administrator David Twa.

“We are focusing all efforts on health and first responders as we prepare for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases,” Twa said. 

But as the coronavirus crisis continues to batter the economy, public employee layoffs are beginning to take effect.

In a move that might be echoed in California and other states, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration told 9,000 state employees — nearly 10 percent of the state workforce — that it will stop paying them starting April 11 in order to cut expenses. 

“There is likely more pain ahead, but we have to do what is right for the community,” Salomon said. “Things will be difficult, but we will not be insensitive to either the public or our employees.”