With hospitality, retail and restaurant businesses being hit the hardest, most of our rural cities have felt their pain. While we are waiting to see what the third quarter balance sheet tells us, now is a good time to take stock of your city’s ability to adapt to the challenges ahead, working toward a goal of strength and stability.
If you haven’t already, we encourage your city to apply for the Coronavirus Act, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act fund. This money is to replenish city coffers for expenses caused by the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/cares/state-and-local-governments
We’ve seen the impact on small businesses with recent restrictions, and some may not return. To make your city as welcoming as possible, use this time to consider zoning restriction adjustments that enables businesses to adapt to new guidelines of social distancing. For example, will your ordinance allow outdoor seating for restaurants on sidewalks or in parking lots? Look at city ordinances related to small businesses and work to make your city an inviting place for their investment.
Has the city considered that the former business model of having a physical location within the city has shifted? What will the city do as businesses realize that they can operate with half of the space they formerly utilized and decide to vacate their current business space in the downtown or strip shopping center? Has the city considered the impacts of the loss of property taxes, net profits taxes and payroll taxes as workers work remotely on a permanent basis?
Has your city considered turning one or more of the city’s downtown streets into a no-car zone? Making use of wide, open spaces encourages residents to walk and children to ride bikes and play outside. Listen to residents and business owners to get their suggestions about how to comfortably be together and socialize in public spaces. Then respond quickly when you can. The best solutions come from the people who live in the community.
Are you and other leaders in the community discussing the next phase, or the what ifs for the next three to six months? If not, it is time to do so. Call up other elected and community leaders, establish an agenda for discussing next steps, set up a virtual meeting, and get input on how best to lead the city through this difficult time.
What about capital projects – have you made a complete list of infrastructure improvements or replacements needed for the city? Are these improvements accounted for in the budget? As the federal government and other funding entities realign their dollars to address the need created by the pandemic, your city needs to be prepared when the applications are announced.
It may be time to pull out that strategic plan that the city worked on a few years back. Dust it off and see what you’ve accomplished. Are there any items remaining that might be doable right now? Or, would now be a good time to get folks together and revisit some of the ideas that were generated but haven’t found funding or traction? If you need some inspiration, use the KLC Community Development Step-By-Step Guide for Strategic Planning, Project Implementation and Comprehensive Planning.