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May 26, 2020

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Camas moves to soften revenue hit due to outbreak

City projects losses but expects to fare relatively well thanks to quick decisions early on

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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3 Photos
Uta Zuendel, who has lived in Camas since 1974, pauses to check out a window display of a closed boutique as she strolls through a nearly empty Main Street in downtown Camas on May 7.
Uta Zuendel, who has lived in Camas since 1974, pauses to check out a window display of a closed boutique as she strolls through a nearly empty Main Street in downtown Camas on May 7. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The city of Camas is projecting a general-fund revenue loss between $2.3 million and $3.9 million as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

That loss, which amounts to 9 to 15 percent decline in revenues, was detailed in a report to the Camas City Council earlier this month. The projections from the city’s finance department are based on a loose range of possible reopening dates between the end of May and the end of July.

The city’s budget for this year had projected about $25.88 million in revenue, and despite the impacts of the economic shutdown, Camas is faring relatively well compared with other cities, city Finance Director Cathy Huber Nickerson said.

Vancouver, by comparison, could lose up to 40 percent in general-fund revenue.

“Because of how quickly we made the decisions we made,” Huber Nickerson said, “I think we’re going to be in a really good position.”

The city noted construction stoppages and delays, business closures, closure of Camas-Washougal Municipal Court, property tax payment delays and other factors in the revenue drop. The decrease has affected a wide range of revenue sources: sales taxes, building permits, fines, real estate excise taxes, state funding and interest earnings.

To offset the loss, the city is planning a moratorium on new hiring, overtime limits for city employees, cuts to all business travel that isn’t required by law and deferral of nonessential capital projects. The cuts are expected to save about $1.67 million.

Additionally, the city plans to pull from its fund balance, which was originally budgeted at roughly $7.6 million. The balance could drop to between $7.04 million and $5.5 million depending on when the city reopens.

The city is slated to receive $722,700 in funding through the federal CARES Act.

Many who live in the city hold professional-class jobs that allow them to work from home, meaning that a larger percentage of residents are still able to pay into revenue streams such as property taxes, Huber Nickerson said. She also noted that several major employers — including the Camas paper mill, WaferTech and Fisher Investments — remain open.

The impact on sales tax revenue won’t be known for several months, but early signs are encouraging, Huber Nickerson said. She suggested that online purchases and home delivery, which allows the city to collect sales taxes, may be providing an unforeseen boost as businesses close physically to the public.

“We’re feeling that trend may continue,” Huber Nickerson said.

Meanwhile, businesses with storefronts have been forced to dramatically alter their business models.

To help those businesses, the city implemented the “Support Local and Save” program in April. The program allows city residents to save up to $75 on utility bills after spending $125 at local businesses.

As of Tuesday, 1,028 people had participated in the program, spending $90,830 and saving $37,275, Huber Nickerson said.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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