SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County leaders are buckling in for months more of struggle as the coronavirus pandemic keeps a tight hold on Utah and the rest of the world.
The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday voted to extend Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s public health emergency declaration for COVID-19 ahead for another roughly two months — until July 6.
The Salt Lake City Council also on Tuesday voted to extend Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s public health emergency declaration until May 7. That could be extended again if the City Council chooses.
The declaration extension the County Council approved Tuesday is separate from the mayor’s countywide stay-at-home orders that shuttered some businesses and ordered county residents to stay at home except for essential needs.
The county’s emergency declaration extension, beyond the initial April 13 expiration date, enables Salt Lake County to continue to apply for federal emergency funds to be reimbursed for COVID-19 response efforts. The County Council can at any time revisit that emergency declaration and can choose to shorten its time frame if the need no longer exists. But attorneys told the council they chose the July 6 date to avoid having to repeatedly come before the council every few weeks to extend the deadline.
“Obviously, if things change, it could be ended earlier,” said Ralph Chamness, chief deputy in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
Modeling indicates Utah and Salt Lake County’s COVID-19 outbreak could peak around the end of April, but it’s not clear how long the pandemic will persist.
Additionally, the county’s health order also expires April 13, but will likely need to be extended as well.
“We do know, ultimately, we’re going to have to extend after April 13, given the rising cases right now with the virus,” Wilson said on KSL Newsradio’s morning news show Tuesday. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s necessary.”
It’s not yet clear how long the mayor and county health officials will choose to extend that stay-at-home order, but Wilson told the County Council their decision will be based on case counts and their trajectory predicted by models.
We do know, ultimately, we’re going to have to extend (the health order) after April 13, given the rising cases right now with the virus...It’s unfortunate, but it’s necessary.
–Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake County Mayor
“We will be measuring daily how the virus is moving, and we’ll know when the time is to ease restrictions so we don’t end up back in the place we’re in right now,” the mayor said.
In the meantime, Wilson urged Utahns to continue practicing social distancing and staying home.
“We know that’s worked and we’ve seen the curve flatten dramatically,” Wilson said. “That’s the good news.”
Wilson said she looks forward to when officials might “be able to have a conversation” about a return to normalcy.
“The world as we know it has changed,” she said.
As of Tuesday, Salt Lake County, Utah’s most densely populated county, had 807 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Of those, 73 have been hospitalized.
As officials continue to urge Utahns to stay home to shield themselves and their families from the highly contagious virus, the state’s and nation’s economy has been thrown into upheaval as dine-in restaurants and other service industries have been forced to close their doors.
As those impacts loom, Salt Lake County leaders have been bracing their government budgets for an economic downturn. Fiscal analysts’ early estimates put the budget impact to Salt Lake County at a roughly $60 million decrease in revenue this year, mostly due to loss of tourism tax dollars and a massive demand on the health department budget.
Tuesday, Darrin Casper, the county’s chief financial officer laid out more estimates on Tuesday — upping that number to a roughly $78.5 million drop in one-time revenue, including a $6.3 million drop in property tax revenues, a $11.7 million drop in operating revenues, and a whopping $60.5 million drop in various sales tax revenues.
Casper said swift actions have been taken to address that loss of revenue, including canceling or delaying big projects related to tourism, recreation and arts.
Still, Casper said the county will likely need to make about $10 million in additional cuts this year. The aim, he said, is to prevent any county employee layoffs.
“Not only does that help Salt Lake County, it also helps the economy,” he told the council.
Casper in an email told KSL those estimates are based on projections, and could change as actual revenues begin to come in.
“If we can accomplish all of the above, the county should be well positioned to cope with any remaining structural deficits that exist come budget time next November,” he said. “In the meantime, we will have the opportunity to watch actual revenues as they come in and make adjustments when/if necessary.”