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What Petersburg officials are doing to prevent a deficit amid coronavirus outbreak

"The reality for us right now is, we've got to make decisions pro-actively."
Posted at 7:10 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 19:35:26-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Over the last several years, the City of Petersburg has been trying to climb out of a deficit, now the coronavirus is threatening to destroy the progress the city has made.

"The reality for us right now is, we've got to make decisions pro-actively and that's what we're planning to do," said Petersburg City Manager Aretha Ferrell-Benavides.

The reality check comes as cities across the country are preparing to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

For Petersburg, that means not making the same mistakes the city has in the past.

The financial problems that plagued Petersburg almost to the point of insolvency a few years ago is not forgotten at City Hall.

"Today is the day I will send out the memo to staff to ask them to give me proposed cuts," said Ferrell-Benavides Monday Morning outside City Hall.

The impact of the coronavirus is not just being felt at home and with businesses, cities understand money may soon get tight.

"I'm asking everyone to do a 10-12 percent budget reduction," said Ferrell-Benavides.

The proposed budget cuts come as staff was already preparing a budget to be sent to City Council on April 1.

Ferrell-Benavides says budget cuts may include a hiring freeze, travel freeze, training freeze, and no overtime or limited overtime.

“We know our public safety officials are the ones on the front line and so we've got to be supportive and understanding," she said.

Twenty percent of the city's budget comes from things like sales and meals taxes, but with many businesses now shuttered Ferrell-Benavides is concerned.

"Our small businesses, which we have a lot of in Petersburg, will they no long exist anymore?" she asked.

The city manager says she realizes people are facing financially difficult time but the city as a business she says can't afford to make the mistakes it made in the past.

"The Reality behind it is, we are still going to need our citizens to pay the water bills because basically we have to pay for it and that will put our city right back where we came from it we're not careful,” she explained.

Ferrell-Benavides says one cut not being considered is cutting city employee’s salaries.