County government budgets feeling stress from COVID-19 economic restrictions

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Additional costs and economic restrictions have not created problems for only state government, but they also have caused struggles for local governments in Virginia.

Representatives of county governments spoke Monday at a Joint Subcommittee on Local Government Fiscal Stress meeting about economic issues. Despite state and federal aid, these governments have had to increase funding to deal with COVID-19-related issues and lost tax revenue because of a lack of economic activity.

Meghan Coates, the finance director for Henrico County, told lawmakers meals and occupancy tax revenue have gone down significantly. Restaurants and hotels have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 restrictions that limit indoor dining and large group events.

Henrico County also has had to increase spending on emergency leave, personal protective equipment, public safety and technology. Because of the ever-changing guidelines, Coates said the county used the most broadly applicable guidelines to determine where to spend money. The county had spent all of its allocation from the first COVID-19 relief bill by Sept. 30.

Kimberly McKay, the legislative fiscal analyst for the House Appropriations Committee, said Virginia and its localities are expected to receive about $2.7 billion from the newest COVID-19 relief bill, which passed Congress and was signed by President Donald Trump late last month.

In the previous funding, McKay said spending varied greatly among counties, but some of the areas that received a lot of funding included payroll, personal protective equipment and distance learning at K-12 public institutions, most of which either switched entirely to remote learning or instituted hybrid lesson plans that included in-person and remote learning.

State lawmakers also have met with city governments to go over their economic burdens during the pandemic. During Monday’s meeting, Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said the subcommittee likely will need to address city needs again in a later meeting.

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