LEBANON – Predictions that the coronavirus pandemic would cripple city budgets have failed to materialize over the past year, with residents of the Upper Valley continuing to pay taxes, buy cars and register their dogs.
Officials from three Upper Valley communities – Lebanon, Hanover and Norwich – recently reported that revenues for the past year largely mirrored those before COVID-19 arrived.
Meanwhile, the few areas that have been hit hard by stay-at-home orders, such as parking and airport fees, will likely be clawed back through federal stimulus funds, they said.
“A lot of us were really surprised not to see any significant difficulties in the ability of people to pay their property taxes,” said Julia Griffin, director of the city of Hanover on Monday morning.
“We haven’t seen any drop in terms of where we are typically two weeks past the tax due date,” she added.
Griffin was one of many Upper Valley managers who watched the region’s unemployment rate rise last spring and questioned whether homeowners would be able to pay their tax bills.
While Hanover had the state’s lowest unemployment rate – 2.9% – in mid-April 2020, businesses and property owners along Main Street struggled as buyers stayed behind. home and that Dartmouth College was moving to distance learning.
However, Griffin said, only a dozen taxpayers were delinquent – the number city officials generally expect – and motor vehicle registrations were “strong.”
But the city’s parking system has suffered “profound” losses, Griffin said.
The $ 2.3 million operation brought in about half of its expected revenue, she said, adding that officials expect parking to rebound this year as vaccines are distributed and that the summer tourist season returns.
In Lebanon, where the unemployment rate reached nearly 12 percent last year, more land tax revenue was collected in 2020 than the year before, city manager Shaun Mulholland told city council last week.
About 1.9% of all property taxes were not collected last year, up from 1.8% the year before, he said, adding that motor vehicle registrations were also exceeding expectations. .
Mulholland said Lebanon’s budget was supported by the development costs the city charges for new residential and commercial buildings, which have seen a “significant increase”.
Overall, Lebanon recorded $ 33.5 million in general fund revenue last year, including land tax revenue.
That’s $ 1.1 million more than the $ 32.4 million the city contributed last year.
But, Mulholland said, the city has seen less dollars coming from recreation programs. These have been sharply reduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the veterans memorial pool has been closed.
Lebanon’s municipal airport, which typically needs money from the city’s general fund to stay afloat, has also seen fewer planes and costs, Mulholland said.
More than $ 2 million in federal aid will help recoup losses from the airport, making it revenue neutral for the next two years, according to Mulholland.
And the stimulus dollars will be used to make up for the shortfall in leisure costs.
Norwich’s revenues remain “roughly on track,” Miranda Bergmeier, assistant to the managing director, said on Monday.
Hartford City Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis said Monday she would need more time to provide information on the city’s income situation.
City officials have said they expect revenues to rebound – and possibly beat past performance – in the years to come as the country recovers from the economic fallout from the pandemic.
For example, employment levels have improved in Vermont and New Hampshire.
“Obviously, the economy appears to be on a rebound, rising,” Mulholland said.
This means city workers could see an increase in the cost of living next year instead of the layoffs Mulholland feared last year.
Tim Camerato can be contacted at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.