The coronavirus pandemic will likely mean a major budget hit to the city of Walnut Creek, amounting to millions of dollars this fiscal year, City Council members were told Tuesday.
Citing the anticipated losses of sales tax revenue, transient occupancy taxes and proceeds related to the cancellation of arts and recreation programs — including scheduled shows at the Lesher Center for the Arts that were canceled — city staff forecasts a budget deficit of between $5.5 million and $10 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year, depending largely on when the Bay Area-wide shelter-in-place order is lifted.
The lower estimate reflects a May 3 end to the shelter-in-place, and the higher number assumes a June 30 end to the order.
And those numbers likely will be somewhat higher, assuming retailer and Lesher Center operations come back gradually, said Teri Killgore, assistant city manager.
City staff presented a wide range of options for possible cost-cutting, ranging from hiring delays and suspending travel and training, to freezing or eliminating vacant positions and diverting money from existing capital projects, to early retirements and layoffs.
“We’ll be asked to make some difficult decisions,” Killgore said.
City governments all over the Bay Area are anticipating significant budget hits directly related to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the Concord City Council cut its own salaries 10 percent, and compensation for managers about 9 percent, in anticipation of budget shortfalls.
Walnut Creek City Manager Dan Buckshi said that while the city’s financial picture was thrown into disarray by the pandemic, the situation would be much worse had the city not planned carefully and spent frugally over the past several years.
“When the tide goes out, you find out who’s not wearing a swimsuit,” Buckshi told the council. “We’re well clothed at the moment.”
Council members agreed, but still suggested projections for next fiscal year as presented Tuesday may be overly optimistic.
“The speed of recovery is going to impede us,” Councilwoman Cindy Silva said. “It’s better to underpromise and overdeliver than vice versa.”