By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
The economic shutdown of the Nevada economy as part of a Coronavirus-prevention plan has devastated local tax revenues and Washoe County’s tourism industry, Washoe Commission Chairman Bob Lucey said on Nevada Newsmakers.
Yet getting the economy back to previous levels will be difficult, he told host Sam Shad.
“In the last budget hearing I had at the county, we are looking at a $33 million budget shortfall in Washoe County for a half-billion annual budget,” Lucey said. “A $33 million shortfall in just a month’s time is dramatic.”
Washoe County’s overall budget is $717 million while the general fund budget is $363 million, according to county documents. Citizens of the county will soon feel the pinch of lower tax revenues.
“You’re going to see some massive budget shortfalls which is going to relate to services being cut,” he said.
Lucey was not specific on which services would be cut but stressed there is no easy way to jump-start the economy. He was critical of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s statewide plan to bring back the economy, saying local and county governments should have more input on state plans, stressing the road to recovery may be different in every region of the state.
“I was on a phone call with (Clark County Commission) Chairman (Marilyn) Kirkpatrick and all 17 county chairs or county managers last Thursday and the discussion was pretty diverse in the sense that, the cases from around the state are very much different,” he said.
“That’s why I continue to preach that we need to do it on a regional level and allow the counties to participate a little bit more heavily in the discussion … because we know our market best,” he said.
Statewide restrictions are being eased for outdoor recreation and retail businesses but many businesses will face various problems in returning to profitability once they are allowed to reopen, Lucey said.
“As a business owner myself, you can’t just turn a business off, close it for 45 days then reopen,” he said. “You have to provide a purpose for consumers to come back, whatever your service may be. And you have to give them the confidence that they are safe and have security (at your business) and are not going incur this pandemic.
“But you are also going to have to provide that business owner the ability to hopefully have the capital to re-energize, re-market and re-employ, or put things back in place that have been bleeding for the last 45 days that they have been closed,” he said.
“So it is going to be very difficult,” Lucey added. “We are going to have to find ways at the county to provide some flexibility without putting us in jeopardy, but also provide the businesses a way to get back going.”
Many business owners worry about the legal ramifications from the possibility of a customer or employee getting sick while inside a business or because of that business, Lucey said.
“Nevadans want to take a prudent approach to see what they can do,” Lucey said. “We just need the ability to go out there and try some different things, understanding that we would adhere, most likely, to the social distancing, the hygiene, the protection we need to provide. But the liability is also a major concern for a number of these properties.
“They are worried that if they bring back customers and if they bring back employees and somehow they get Covid and there were not enough safety protocols in place, then you may find yourself in a legal battle.”
Lucey wants the state to help provide business owners with protection against that risk, Lucey said
“I hope the governor has some sort of plan, whether it is a special session (of the Legislature) to address the Covid-19 response,” Lucey said. “They’re going to have to discuss it from a budgetary standpoint and they are going to have to discuss the legal ramifications and how flexible is the law. Those are the discussions they are currently having at the federal level. We need to be having those at the state level because we are very, very specific with our needs here in Nevada, especially when it comes to gaming and tourism. A majority of our fiscal landscape resides around gaming and tourism. We need to be having those discussions right now.”