The financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to layoffs in city departments.
Like countries, state governments, and munipalities throughout the world, Mercer Island is anticipating a significant budget shortfall due to the stay-home orders that have protected the wellbeing of citizens but also suddenly stopped the worldwide economy.
In recent discussions and an April 29 press release, city manager Jessi Bon warned of a $4.3 million deficit in the general fund and about $1.3 million in the Youth and Family Services fund.
To continue balancing the 2020 budget, the city is laying off more than 20 people. The layoffs will impact the Youth and Family Services (YFS) department, the Parks and Recreation department and the Facilities Division. Another 11 people have been furloughed.
“These decisions unfortunately come on the heels of a prior round of layoffs at the end of March, in which I made the decision to lay off almost 40 temporary and seasonal staff,” Bon said in the release.
The Thrift Store is the main source of revenue for YFS. The stay-home order issue in March, stopped that revenue entirely for the department. During a financial presentation in April, the city warned Thrift Store operations likely would not return to normal in 2020, meaning longterm financial impacts to YFS.
In its own statement, the YFS Foundation lamented the cuts but reaffirmed its role in the community.
“Although the Foundation has healthy reserves, it could not close all of the significant projected gap the city projects even after the savings from personnel cuts, particularly given our need to ensure we meet our basic annual commitment to the city and save reserves for the continuing revenue shortfall that will likely affect 2021,” the foundation wrote. “The Foundation is committed to providing over and above funding to staff critical services in place for those families most affected by the COVID crisis, whether in need of food, rent or utility assistance or mental health counseling, and responsibly spending down reserves on other service priorities.”
YFS’ development director, Sari Weiss, and executive director Cindy Goodwin were part of the cuts.
“…We mourn with them and you as we share that they were part of the force reductions,” the Foundation wrote. “If MIYFS has taught us anything, it is that there is always hope.”
The Foundation added that local giving had been helpful in protecting some YFS services.
“We are proud that through your generous donations, we were able to secure the senior services position this year,” the Foundation wrote. “We very much appreciate the generosity of the many Islanders who have been donating directly to the Department or to the Foundation to ensure that no Islander is going hungry or homeless in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic.”
In the city’s press release, Bon noted that staff continues to seek additional budget reductions.
“All options are on the table. Just as we are looking at all possible cuts, I have also assigned a team to pursue all possible grant and other funding options,” Bon wrote.
The city council will receive another financial update on May 5 (after the Reporter went to press).