Back In Chambers

With some masks and proper social distancing,  El Campo City Council returned to City Hall Monday night for a session that dealt largely with COVID-19 and its effects. Pictured (l-r)  are Councilwoman Anisa Vasquez, City Manager Courtney Sladek, Mayor Randy Collins and Councilman Chris Barbee. The council opted to delay any decisions on cutting the municipal budget.

El Campo City Council took a “wait-and-see” stance on the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic Monday, despite dire predictions.

Proposed budget adjustments were tabled in a 6-1 vote with Mayor Randy Collins against during the in-person session at City Hall. The proposal will return for city council consideration during a June session.

Plans may not be effective in this case, Councilwoman Gloria Harris said. “Do you know you have to make adjustments? COVID-19 said, ‘I don’t care what y’all got planned. I got something else planned.’”

Staff wanted to cut $295,770 from the current fiscal year budget, placing the item on the consent agenda along with continuing the city’s disaster declaration and minutes of the last meeting.

Instead, Councilman John Hancock said he wanted to ask questions, expressing concern over reduction to anticipated sales tax gains and dollars planned to fix El Campo roads.

The majority of the proposed budget cuts come from anticipated sales tax revenue, roughly $227,000.

The cut recommended by staff was 5 percent off the budget, City Manager Courtney Sladek said, although the city’s sales tax revenue is still showing gains at this point.

“We’re still optimistic,” she said, but added, “A lot of retailers were shut down in the month of April.”

Sales tax is the largest revenue source for the City of El Campo, but it takes time for growth or loss trends to be recognized.

The city’s payment from April purchases won’t be returned by the state comptroller’s office until June. The rebate from May sales will follow in July. Both are anticipated to show heavy losses.

Proposed budget cuts in oil and gas costs, meanwhile, reflect cheaper than anticipated fuel costs.

“$106,000 from street maintenance? That seems to be cut a lot. I think we should stop doing that,” Hancock said, adding he’s also concerned about blight cleanup efforts on Jackson Street, a road specifically targeted for enforcement this fiscal year.

“All you have to do is drive up and down Jackson. Maybe we should use (an anticipated cut to demolition costs) for picking up tires or something.”

Councilwoman Anisa Vasquez questioned reducing anticipated election costs.

Mayor Randy Collins said the proposed cuts were a conservative approach to possible COVID fallout developed by staff. “It’s not just us. It’s every city, every school district in this country,” he said.

It’s too soon to make decisions, Hancock said. “I suggest we table the adjustments until we have a better idea of what this situation is,” he said.

The majority of council agreed.

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