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COVID-19 Is Hurting City And County Budgets. In Fort Lauderdale, That Means A $34 Million Revenue Hit

Fort_Lauderdale_SEWAGE_Jan_20.jpeg
Daniel A. Varela
/
Miami Herald
City Commissioners meet to discuss millions of dollars in sewage repairs in January 2020, before the pandemic.

City commissioners in Fort Lauderdale feel the impacts of COVID-19 during the first public budget hearing.

Fort Lauderdale is feeling revenue losses from the ripple effects of COVID-19.

The city held its first public budget hearing of the month Thursday evening.

"It was income we anticipated getting and we did not receive. Which is a total of $34 million," Mayor Dean Trantalis said.

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Of the $34 million in revenue losses, $19 million is a shortfall to the city's general fund. That's revenue lost from things like sales taxes, taxes from Florida Power & Light, and programming at parks.

"All of those things combined together generated the revenue shortfalls. There were also additional expenses that were COVID-related," said John Herbst, the city auditor.

The city is hoping to recoup at least some of its expenses related to the coronavirus from the federal government.

Fort Lauderdale's entire proposed budget for 2021 is nearly $848 million, which is about $15 million more than last year's budget.

City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said in his annual budget overview letter that the city faced two big budgetary challenges this year: stopping the criticized practice of transferring money out of the water and sewage fund to balance the general fund — and the pandemic.

"The full financial impact of COVID-19 is still unknown," he wrote.

"Our diversified revenue streams, strategic reductions, and targeted delays in capital projects are projected to allow the City to weather the estimated shortfall to the General Fund in FY 2020," Lagerbloom wrote. "Without impacting the services provided to our neighbors."

At the same time, local social justice groups calling to defund the police hope to get city leaders to listen to their plans. The Black Lives Matter Alliance of Broward is trying to put more pressure on city commissioners to reallocate $10 million from the Fort Lauderdale Police Department back into existing community programs.

Although members of the alliance did not end up participating in the meeting's public comment, the group, as well as Broward Dream Defenders, took to Twitter during the budget hearing, using the hashtags #ReimaginingFTL and #DefundFLPD.

Earlier this week Lagerbloom told WLRN, "We've looked at our budget very comprehensively, and believe that what's presented is the best recommendation for Fort Lauderdale going forward. It does take into account sufficient funding to continue to maintain police operations — but the police are certainly in no way over-funded in Fort Lauderdale."

Lagerbloom continued, "I think the budget provides a very balanced approach to all of the different services that we have to provide, recognizing that we're in a time when revenues are down."

Residents can give input and feedback on how they think the city is spending money by submitting comments on an online platform the city uses, called Balancing Act.

The city's second — and final — public budget hearing will be held online Monday, Sept. 14. If the budget is approved, it will go into effect Oct. 1.