COVID-19 costs are adding up at the Village of Wellington, and revenues are suffering to the point that the current budget for fiscal year 2019-20, with little more than 30 days left in it, had to be amended to reflect a $2.4 million shortfall.
“We cannot by law have a budget that is not balanced,” Mayor Anne Gerwig explained. “This is money we do not have and will not be spent. It is going to be a tough year, and we don’t have another place to get the money.”
The missing revenue comes from projections that were made before COVID-19 and largely represent lost state revenue sharing for sales and gas taxes, as well as reduced parks and recreation fees and franchise fees.
“This is just another painful reminder that unforeseeable events [like the pandemic] occur,” Councilman Michael Drahos said. “We need to take a very careful look at using reserves next year.”
Village Manager Paul Schofield explained that his staff is comfortable with the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21, which begins Oct. 1 and is fairly stable based on property values.
“We adjusted the budget [revenues] down $5 to $6 million,” he said, but added a warning for those expecting a quick recovery. “We will not be out of this for the next two years or longer.”
Looking forward, Gerwig asked village staff to be proactive when it comes to finances.
“If there is a problem, we want to know about it,” she said.
Schofield said he expects all future budgets to take the issue into account.
“It looks very much like a recessionary period,” he said. “We just don’t have the new construction [going on]. Our budgets for the next five years reflect this.”
In other business:
• Gerwig recused herself on an insurance matter, since she is a trustee of the insurance company, the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, operated by the Florida League of Cities. Wellington’s FMIT expenses rose from $1,016,000 by $96,000 to $1,112,000.
“This is not all premium, and it is nothing unexpected. We added new facilities and insured properties such as the boardwalk and associated waterfront properties, and the water plant,” said Schofield, who added that the premium has been negotiated down.
As a heads up, he said that another premium increase will occur next year when the new sports complex goes online.
• Village Attorney Laurie Cohen reported on plum trees that had been deemed a nuisance due to overgrowth that provided breeding grounds for snakes, rats and vermin. She said the village became involved and tried to mediate the situation, but the property owner’s arborist responded with a plan that involved reducing branches by 40 to 60 percent. As staff determined this was “hat-racking,” which violates village code, the matter went to a code hearing that lasted four hours. The case is now with the special magistrate.
• Gerwig asked staff that a “unity event” be scheduled with appropriate social distancing as soon as possible after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Councilman Michael Napoleone said that complaints from the Black Lives Matter movement had been heard and that changes involve detail and deliberation. “There is no quick fix,” he said.
• Wellington’s COVID-19 testing site at the Wellington Community Center will continue, although numbers of participants have dropped off. To make an appointment, visit www.wellingtonfl.gov/testing.
• As always, Councilman John McGovern reminded those who haven’t returned their 2020 Census form yet to please respond. The village is in a contest with neighboring communities in an attempt to boost the participation rate.