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Lubbock, other South Plains cities lobby for direct federal COVID-19 relief funding in next bill

Updated: Feb. 4, 2021 at 6:06 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - As Congress considers what is in the next COVID-19 relief bill, the City of Lubbock and other South Plains cities are hoping financial assistance to local governments is included. Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope and other local mayors signed onto a letter with more than 80 other Texas mayors asking the Texas congressional delegation for, “direct and flexible fiscal assistance.”

“Texas cities are major employers that provide core local government services to tens of millions of Texans,” the letter states. “However, we are all mandated to balance our budgets and cannot weather a budget deficit for long. Absent direct and flexible assistance, we fear that we will be forced to cut our workforce and reduce services, exacerbating the economic and public health crises created by this pandemic.”

According to City Manager Jarrett Atkinson, the largest fiscal impact for the City of Lubbock’s response to the pandemic is the cost of personnel.

“In most things that the city government does, that’s where you’ll see your biggest expense,” Atkinson told KCBD. “We have a lot of public health staff that’s helping work in the vaccination clinic.”

Atkinson said salaries are budgeted but overtime costs, including for Lubbock Fire Rescue crews, are adding up. Some grants and other federal relief funding has helped cover costs but the response to the pandemic continues and vaccinations are just getting started.

“The big stressor as we talk about the pandemic and the pandemic response is, we don’t know when it’s over,” Atkinson said. “We don’t particularly know what’s next.”

If Congress approves funding for state and local governments in an upcoming package, the City of Lubbock also hopes it will be directly given to those local entities. In previous legislation, the Treasury has provided it to the State to disperse. In Lubbock’s case, the Texas Division of Emergency Management controlled the assistance because it is a smaller populated city.

The Lubbock City Council in early December included an item on this topic in its 2020-21 Legislative Agenda, adding its support to efforts to direct financial assistance to municipalities regardless of population.

“Why couldn’t we treat cities the size of Lubbock the way we treated the larger cities and just have all the dollars flow direct?” Atkinson asked. “There are still the same accountabilities, the same audit trails and management requirements, but just flow it direct and see if we could make it move a little quicker.”

Atkinson did not give a dollar amount for what the City of Lubbock needs, but he hopes to see the complete cost of administering vaccines covered by the federal government.

“We know what the work task is in front of us now,” Atkinson said. “We just don’t know how long it’s going to go. So, just cover those costs and keep the vaccines flowing.”

Below is the letter to the Texas Congressional Delegation:

February 3, 2021

Honorable Members of the Texas Delegation:

As Texas combats the third and largest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, we once again write to request that Congress provide direct and flexible fiscal assistance to local governments of all sizes. Texas cities need help to continue to address the pandemic and its economic and social impacts and to weather budget shortfalls that we face through no fault of our own.

The budget calamity looming over local governments is real and requires extraordinary measures. As the numbers recently released by Comptroller Hegar illustrate, Texas is not immune from this pain. He reports that December 2020 general fund tax revenues were 9.26% below December 2019′s figures. Please note that these numbers do not include delayed property tax revenue losses, the primary source of local government revenue in Texas. Property taxes are always a lagging economic indicator, and we therefore fear that it will be some time before our revenues rebound from the pandemic. All Texas cities are grappling with this devastating reduction in revenue as a result of an unprecedented pandemic. In addition, we are facing this fiscal crisis at the same time we continue to address major public health and public safety challenges and are incurring significant costs to ramp up vaccination efforts and other pandemic prevention and response activities. Cities have been, and will continue to be, the first responders to our pandemic – assistance cannot come at a more necessary time.

Texas cities are major employers that provide core local government services to tens of millions of Texans. However, we are all mandated to balance our budgets and cannot weather a budget deficit for long. Absent direct and flexible assistance, we fear that we will be forced to cut our workforce and reduce services, exacerbating the economic and public health crises created by this pandemic. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that local governments have already cut 1 million jobs since the pandemic began, including 56,000 in Texas. Furthermore, without direct and flexible fiscal assistance, those unemployment numbers will only get worse, leading to a drag on economic recovery and hurting efforts to safely reopen our economy.

There is broad support for direct and flexible fiscal assistance to local governments. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen have endorsed it in testimony to Congress and in other public remarks, arguing that local government budget cuts threaten to stymie economic recovery and hurt core government services later this year, and potentially years following. Closer to home, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan has repeatedly voiced strong support for fiscal assistance to local governments. In addition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many other national organizations have called for fiscal assistance to state and local governments.

Texas metropolitan areas account for 93.1% of the Texas economy. Vibrant metropolitan areas with strong, fiscally stable local governments will be key to defeating the pandemic and managing the reopening of the Texas economy. Simply put, it will be impossible to have fiscally stable local governments without flexible fiscal assistance directly allocated from the federal government.

Thank you again for your efforts during this unprecedented time and for your attention to our request. We are confident that, working together, our nation can overcome this crisis.

Sincerely,

Sylvester Turner, Mayor, City of Houston

Ron Nirenberg, Mayor, City of San Antonio

Eric Johnson, Mayor, City of Dallas

Steve Adler, Mayor, City of Austin

Jeff Williams, Mayor, City of Arlington

Oscar Leeser, Mayor, City of El Paso

Harry LaRosiliere, Mayor, City of Plano

Paulette M. Guajardo, Mayor, City of Corpus Christi

Mayor Ron Jensen, City of Grand Prairie

Pete Saenz, Mayor, City of Laredo

Dan Pope, Mayor, City of Lubbock

Rick Stopfer, Mayor, City of Irving

Ginger Nelson, Mayor, City of Amarillo

Paul Johnson, Mayor, City of Jonestown

Jeff Wagner, Mayor, City of Pasadena

James E. Darling, Mayor, City of McAllen

Craig K. Brown, Mayor, City of Galveston

Karen Hunt, Mayor, City of Coppell

Joe Zimmerman, Mayor, City of Sugar Land

Josh Schroder, Mayor, City of Georgetown

Paul Voelker, Mayor, City of Richardson

Stephen L. Santellana, Mayor, City of Wichita Falls

Bill Blackburn, Mayor, City of Kerrville

Brenda Gunter, Mayor, City of San Angelo

Geary Smith, Mayor, City of Mexia

Sara Post Meyer, Mayor, City of Cuero

Dr. Ianthia Fisher, Mayor, City of Crockett

Connie Schroeder, Mayor, City of Bastrop

Sergio Coronado, Mayor, City of Hidalgo

Olan Kelley, Mayor, City of Highland

Haven Antonio Araujo, Mayor, City of San Elizario

Terrill Bartlett, Mayor, City of Canadian

Todd Wright, Mayor, City of Petronila

Tammy Dana-Bashian, Mayor, City of Rowlett

Al Turnage, Mayor, City of Hooks

Tobe Shields, Mayor, City of Spearman

Cissy Gonzalez-Dippel, Mayor, City of Floresville

Lee Urbanovsky, Mayor, City of Buda

Mike Hendricks, Mayor, City of Luling

Willie Leal, Jr., Mayor, City of Poteet

Spencer H. Smith, Mayor, City of Harker Heights

Ricky Swick, Mayor, City of Bremond

Clyde C. Hairston, Mayor, City of Lancaster

Ron Humphrey, Mayor, City of New Boston

Cathy Skurow, Mayor, City of Portland

David Hillock, Mayor, Town of Little Elm

George Galbreath, Mayor, City of Thorndale

Sam R. Fugate, Mayor, City of Kingsville

Caroline Wadzeck, Mayor, City of Dayton

Juan Jose Zamora, Mayor, City of Port Isabel

Arthur L. Miner, Mayor, City of Watauga

Tom Daly, Mayor, City of Selma

Sean Skipworth, Mayor, City of Dickinson

Doyle Robinson, Mayor, City of Panhandle

Leroy Hughes, Mayor, City of San Augustine

Barbra Pinner, Mayor, City of Levelland

David Hoover, City Manager, City of Colorado City

Ricardo Guerra, Mayor, City of San Benito

Roger Shugart, Mayor, City of Brazoria

Jane Hughson, Mayor, City of San Marcos

Gilbert Gomez, Mayor, City of Robstown

Tim Handren, Mayor, City of Boerne

William M. “Bill” Hastings, Mayor, City of Katy

Mary Parr, Mayor, City of Eagle Lake

Pam Gosline, Mayor, City of Vernon

C.R. Evans, Jr., Mayor, City of Overton

Robert Williams, Mayor, City of Jourdanton

Michael Barnhart, Mayor, City of Lake Dallas

Ambrosio Hernandez, Mayor, City of Pharr

Patrick Payton, Mayor, City of Midland

Olan Kelley, Mayor, City of Highland Haven

Mark McFadden, Mayor, City of Olton

Manuel Baeza, Mayor, City of Marfa

Mark L. Stanfill, DVM, Mayor, City of Red Oak

Tom Hesse, Mayor, City of Brownfield

Jim Olk, Mayor, City of Lucas

Vicki Sanson, Mayor, City of Lavon

Joe Carlyle, Mayor, City of Troup

Sheila Petta, Mayor, City of Wilmer

Larry Vernon, Mayor, City of Eastland

Rick Carmona, Mayor, City of Terrell

William L. Parten, Mayor, City of Madisonville

Henry Wilson, Mayor, City of Hurst

Mike Foreman, Mayor, City of Friendswood

Cathy Bennett, Mayor, City of Ivanhoe

Kenneth M. Fulk, Mayor, City of Allen

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