HUDSON — As the city faces an expected $1 million loss from 2020, a new economic task force will seek solutions.
The exact amounts from 2020 are being counted as money comes in to the city, but Treasurer Heather Campbell expects the fund balance to fall lower than it has in a “very long time,” she said. The city has had a policy to maintain the unassigned fund balance between 25% and 35% of the city’s budget, and from 2020’s $11.8 million budget the fund balance is expected to fall to about 5.2%. While the shortfall from the pandemic is expected, Campbell is concerned about how the city will make up the funds and she expects the city to continue to draw on the fund balance.
The total revenues for 2020 were $9.9 million and the expenditures were $11.2 million, leaving a $1.2 million shortfall. Campbell expects after unfinished business such as remaining parking meter quarters and PILOT distributions are complete, the city will reach $10.3 million in revenue from 2020, leaving a deficit closer to $1 million.
Last year began with a $2.8 million unassigned fund balance that was $1 million less by the end of the year, Campbell said. The city used almost $500,000 of the fund to balance the 2021 budget. Once designated funds the city has dedicated to certain purposes are removed from the balance, it could be as low as $610,953, or 5.2% of the 2020 budget.
Campbell did not sign the 2021 budget, which required signatures of two of three members of the Board of Estimate and Apportionments to pass. Mayor Kamal Johnson and Common Council President Thomas DePietro, the two other members, approved the budget.
“I didn’t feel we were aggressive enough, frankly,” Campbell said, adding it was the first time she didn’t sign a budget.
Parking meters being suspended in the spring and in December, businesses closing down because of the pandemic and fewer visitors using the Front Street parking lot all negatively impacted city finances, Campbell said. Sales tax and mortgage tax were not as low as expected, but lodging tax took a big hit, receiving just 29% of budgeted expenditures.
Since the pandemic, Hudson has lost four bed-and-breakfast businesses and the Barlow Hotel has been closed for renovations, Hudson Development Corporation President Robert Rasner said.
Rasner announced Tuesday he is creating an economic task force for the city, spearheaded by the Hudson Development Corporation, in response to Campbell’s budget estimates. The group will aim to help elected officials address the city government’s financial situation, Rasner said.
Rasner organized board members and local business and property owners to meet with Campbell on Monday to learn about the budget. The meeting was inspired by questions from prospective investors for the corporation’s 14-18 Montgomery St. parcel (formerly owned by CSX and Kaz) about the city’s financial situation, as they may be investing more than $25 million for the site, Rasner said.
Rasner has begun reaching out to those who attended the meeting with Campbell to see who is willing to join his initiative and who they recommend join, he said. Once a core group is created, it will assess what skill sets they need before recruiting others. The group shouldn’t be too large and its members should be willing and able to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort, Rasner said.
“Tomorrow is not soon enough,” he said. “We’ve got to move promptly.”
While many have suggested the city sell its buildings to make up for its losses and Campbell agrees the city shouldn’t be a landlord, she doesn’t think one-time revenue sources will solve the city’s financial problems.
If, when and how the city will see financial aid from the state or federal government, or how much, is unclear, Campbell said.
The city has to find more revenue streams or cut expenditures, she said.
Johnson asked departments to make 5% and 10% cuts halfway through 2020, she said.
“If you don’t count personnel in that, it’s virtually impossible for departments to meet those numbers,” she added.
The city offers two different health care plans, one significantly more expensive than the other, because the city is under contract to provide the pricier option to certain employees, she said as an example of how the city could try to negotiate finances.