DEARBORN — The COVID-19 pandemic has hit state and municipal budgets hard. Businesses came to a screeching halt at the height of cases in Michigan, but with the state slowly transitioning into more relaxed phases, city governments are cautiously looking forward to a summer of economic activity.
The Arab American News spoke to three government officials from Dearborn about how their departments have coped with the pandemic.
“The city has experienced nearly $2 million of unexpected expenditures directly related to COVID-19,” said Dearborn Finance Director Ginger Burke-Miller. “The administration is hopeful that a portion of these costs will be covered through FEMA grants and other federal or state assistance.”
Burke-Miller took some time from her busy schedule to get down to brass tacks about the city’s budget vows. The Dearborn City Council adopted the budget last Thursday.
Due to Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe order, Dearborn laid off nearly all part-time staff members. Full-time staff members began furloughs the week of June 8 and expect to furlough through the end of July.
“Of all of the departments, the Recreation and Parks Department’s revenue has been most severely impacted,” Burke-Miller said. “Approximately 80 percent of Recreation’s revenue is realized in April, May and June of each year.”
The city government anticipates a net loss of $1.6 million in the Recreation Department during the 2020 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
“As the state of Michigan continues to open up, Recreation facilities will do so accordingly and the city hopes to see the revenue stream restored,” Burke-Miller added. “The city went into the pandemic with sufficient general fund reserves to assist in emergency situations such as this.”
Hopeful Economic Development Department
“Wayne County put forth funds to help businesses (through the pandemic),” said Hassan Sheik, deputy director of Dearborn’s Economic and Community Development Department. “Dearborn had the highest number of awardees out of any other municipality in the area.”
The department also helped put forth a grant to help numerous businesses, distributing around $150,000.
“Currently we have funds from the CARES Act that we can put forth to businesses as they go through the reopening process,” Sheikh said. “This should help them with direct COVID-19 relief and hit issues they may deal with going forward.
The city’s Economic Department courts much of the large scale investment projects in the city and manages dollars from federal funding programs for commercial and residential projects. Sheikh said the department has had to ramp up its support for businesses.
“Regular investments in the community have not really slowed down in the sense that we are continually working and making sure we meet with investors and developers. We’ve become creative in finding ways to make sure investment and business doesn’t stop.”
Dearborn’s downtowns look to the future
Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the East and West Dearborn Downtown Development Authorities (DDA), said summer events and businesses are taking a modified approach to summer.
“We’ve had to cancel a majority of our events for the summer,” she said. “Right when we went into the stay-at-home order, we had been gearing up for Restaurant Week, which has now been postponed.”
Dearborn’s west downtown in particular has seen a resurgence of food culture in the last few years. The DDA recently unveiled a branding campaign to attract young, vibrant and diverse business and residency. Ford Motor Company also invested in real estate space.
“We know that people will gradually work their way back into some form of normalcy, but things will look different,” Sheppard-Decius said.
Sheppard-Decius, who is also the Michigan Downtown Association’s chairwoman, said that downtowns across the state are seeing varying degrees of activity, with some businesses still remaining cautious about reopening.
“We are starting to see people coming back out and enjoying our businesses,” she said. “But it’s a mixture (statewide) and not consistent across the board.”
The DDA has created an “Open for Business” Facebook page where businesses can post their availability information. An outdoor dining plan, approved by the City Council, will also be released soon. Sheppard-Decius urges customers to support local business at this time.